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Highly Advanced Robotic Arm Available For US Amputees

May 10, 2014 08:27 PM EDT
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DEKA Arm System
A highly advanced prosthetic arm has just been approved for marketing in the United States by federal regulators, providing a way for every-day amputee victims to perform complex tasks via a robotic limb for the first time.
(Photo : Reuters)

A highly advanced prosthetic arm has just been approved for marketing in the United States by federal regulators, providing a way for every-day amputee victims to perform complex tasks via a robotic limb for the first time.

The prosthetic arm, called the DEKA Arm System, was created by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway - a popular novel transportation unit that resembles a two-wheeled scooter.

According to an announcement made by the US Food and Drug Administration, the DEKA Arm System is "the first prosthetic arm that can perform multiple, simultaneous powered movements controlled by electrical signals from electromyogram (EMG) electrodes."

The robotic arm reportedly interprets electrical signals from the muscles in a user's arm. Users contract these muscles in various ways to manually control how the prosthetic functions.

Still, the DEKA can serve only "certain kinds of arm amputations," said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Because the arm system interprets muscle contractions in the upper-arm to function, amputees who are missing their entire limb would unfortunately be unable to direct the robotic limb.

The arm can perform one of 10 different complex actions at a time, limiting intense applications of the limb, but still offering amputee victims a wide range of movement not previously thought possible.

The prosthetic arm gained federal approval after clinical studies involving 36 veteran amputees showed that 90 percent of the participants were able to perform common household activities such as using keys and locks, cooking, cleaning, and eating, soon after becoming familiar with the command system of the robotic arm.

Still, while highly advanced, the DEKA Arm System pales in comparison to other prosthetic systems still in development.

One experimental prosthetic hand can even help amputee victims distinguish the difference between rough vs. smooth, and hard vs. soft surfaces. A recent mid-trial report published in the journal Science Translational Medicine earlier this year detailed how an experimental subject had successfully controlled an experimental prosthetic arm with motor signals interpreted directly from the brain. More impressive still, the subject had successfully identified the texture of three objects while blindfolded, "feeling" the objects he held in his prosthetic hand.

Of, course, unlike the DEKA Arm System, this hand is still years of testing away from being approved for everyday use. In the meantime, the DEKA is available now, providing some amputees a means to improve their quality of life.

The FDA approval was announced on May 9.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine, on February 5.

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