The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Friday that it has approved the marketing of the first prosthetic arm that translates electrical signals from people’s muscles in order to perform tasks.
The prosthetic arm, known as the DEKA Arm System, performs multiple movements at the same time that are controlled by electromyogram (EMG) electrodes. “This innovative prosthesis provides a new option for people with certain kinds of arm amputations,” Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a news release. “The DEKA Arm System may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm.”
The prosthetic arm is about the same shape and weight as an adult arm, and includes a number of mechanisms like switches, force sensors, and movement sensors. It’s designed for people who’ve lost their arms, and can be attached at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm, or mid-lower arm. After reviewing its clinical information, where it was tested on various study participants using it in household and self-care tasks, the FDA found that it helped 90 percent of people perform activities they weren’t able to before. The prosthetic arm assisted them in using keys and locks, making food, feeding themselves and brushing or combing their hair.
The DEKA Arm, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is referred to as “Luke,” after Luke Skywalker, because of its robotic qualities. During the long process of testing DEKA, Dr. Mike Boninger, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Rehabilitation Institute, described back in 2013 the ability of one study participant to achieve new freedom with the prosthetic arm: “This new subject was able to reach in space, orient her wrist, and grasp objects,” he said. “We did a clinical test called the ARAT [Action Research Arm Test], which looks at how well you can function with one arm, and she came very close to being normal in certain tasks … This is someone who was previously unable to move at all and can now control a robotic arm to stack cones, to move objects, and shake your hand. The subject was even able to feed herself chocolate for the first time in a long, long time, which was one of the highlights of the experiment for her.”