Dean Kamen will go down in infamy as the inventor of the Segway, but in truth his inventiveness has saved a lot of lives. It was Kamen who invented the first drug infusion pump and made some major advances in dialysis. And now, his latest invention is finally coming to market.
The DEKA Arm is an almost absurdly advanced prosthetic that essentially replaces a lost limb. It moves by sensing the movement of muscles and other feedback and uses that to determine the intended action of the user. The result is a limb capable of, if not replacing a lost arm, giving those who’ve lost an arm far more freedom and quality of life. To give you an idea of how powerful the system is, here it is in action:
That guy has no arm; the prosthetic is doing that entirely by sensing muscle movements at the torso and acting accordingly. It seems mundane, but even current prosthetic limbs are incapable of offering such fine control over pressure and grasp. One DEKA Arm tester had lost both arms and was dependent on his family; now, he’s more independent and capable of living his own life.
If you feel like this is the end of a long process, you’d be right: This started back in 2007 with DARPA looking to improve the lives of wounded veterans. And now, DEKA is over that final hurdle and can begin selling this to anyone in the United States.
It’s not perfect: It wasn’t designed for anyone who had an amputation at the elbow or wrist, although work is ongoing to adapt the DEKA Arm to others who need it. But it’s an option, and more importantly, proof that DARPA does more than just put death rays into planes and build killer robots.