One of the world’s most advanced prosthetics is set to hit the market later this year. The Luke arm was designed by Segway-creator Dean Kamen with funding from DARPA, and has been under development for close to a decade. In 2014, it received approval from the FDA, and now, the company behind the prosthetic (which was previously named the DEKA arm) says it will be ready for “commercial introduction” in late 2016.
The arm is controlled using electrical signals from muscles
The Luke is named after after Luke Skywalker’s advanced prosthetic in Star Wars, and its headline feature is its control system. The prosthetic uses electrodes placed on the amputated limb to pick up electrical signals from the user’s muscles. When the user tenses or flexes their arm, the Luke changes its position and grip. This is much more intuitive than more basic prosthetics, which are generally controlled with switches or buttons, or adjusted manually by the wearer. A separate control system is also available for the Luke that uses wireless sensors placed in the wearer’s shoe.
Verge coverage of the Luke arm from 2014.
The Luke also has more degrees of flexibility and movement than a regular prosthetic. The shoulder, elbow, and wrist are all individually powered, allowing the wearer to reach over their head and behind their back. There are four independent motors in the hand, offering the dexterity necessary to securely grip anything from a glass of water to a single egg. Force sensors in the fingers also give the wearer feedback on how hard they’re gripping.
But all this technology comes at a price. Although the creators of the Luke arm have yet to announced how much their prosthetic will cost, it will certainly be in the tens of thousands of dollars, and some experts in the industry have even predicted a price tag of $100,000. Elsewhere in the industry, 3D printing is helping produce basic prosthetics that cost only a few hundred dollars, but it seems our current tech can either create advanced solutions or cheap ones — we can’t yet do both.