Approximately eight years ago, DARPA, the advanced research agency for the US Defense Department, began their mission to find a better answer for amputees than the current options that are available, i.e. metal hooks and pincers.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval to one of the projects that DARPA have been working on: The DEKA Arm, a mind-controlled prosthetic limb.

Devices, which are similar, are being worked on around the globe by other scientists and engineers.  The DEKA Arm is the first such prosthetic device to get FDA approval however. This prosthetic device comes from a company founded by Dean Kamen (the inventor of the Segway) and it is roughly the size and weight of a normal adult arm.


The arm itself is controlled by electromyogram electrodes, which are placed on the remaining part of the human arm.  It is those sensors, which pick up electrical signals from muscle movements in the upper arm.  Then a computer in the prosthetic arm can differentiate what type of movement the user wants to make.

The results that have come out of testing are very impressive; Amputees in clinical trials were able to perform tasks that were once thought impossible for a prosthetic limb user. The users were able to use zippers and keys and they could pick up objects such as grapes and eggs without crushing them.  The latter is due to vibration feedback located at the base of the prosthetic, which enables the arm to detect fragility in the object being picked up.

The FDA has said the DEKA Arm is the first prosthetic arm controlled by electric signals, which can accomplish multiple, robotic powered movements simultaneously.  According to Bloomberg Businessweek, to reach this goal DARPA has made investments up to $40 million into the project. This is taken from the agency’s larger $100 million “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” program.

Because the DEKA Arm has now got FDA approval, the makers can look for a manufacturer and eventually release the product for use by amputees.

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[Image via totallyhotstuff]