It took eight years of research, but the inventor of the Segway finally succeeded in developing the closest thing to a replacement for amputated arms—and it’s a game changer.
Dean Kamen’s bionic version works by picking up on the electric signals near the point of amputation and translating those to the prosthetic, a transparent replica of a human arm and hand, complete with fingers and a thumb. Named Luke after the Star Wars hero who lost his hand in a light-saber duel, the arm gives users the ability to perform multiple functions at one time, an advance over most available prosthetics.
The human brain automatically calibrates the amount of grip needed to pick up objects, and knows to adjust strength in order to handle a coin as opposed to a book. The Luke arm does the same, switching between six different grips as the wearer decides. Being able to control several joints at the same time also increases the user’s range of motion, allowing him to open a lock with a key or chop food to prepare a meal.
The device, developed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and from Kamen’s DEKA Research and Development, can be fitted for people with amputations at the shoulder, upper arm or lower arm, but not at the elbow or wrist.