A new, high-tech neuroprosthetic arm for amputees enables them to touch and feel, according to The Washington Post. The new technology was created by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, with additional funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The fingers and hand of the robotic arm can reportedly be controlled by the user’s own nerve impulses. The creators of the device also restored the sense of touch, which allows a user to pick up and manipulate things. Researchers are calling it the “Luke” arm, named after the Jedi from Star Wars, according to the Post.
Even the very best prosthetic hands make sophisticated movements, but reportedly require complex methods of operation. Some work based on tilt motions of the user’s foot while others utilize the movements made by the remaining muscles in a user’s arm. However, the neuroprosthetic arm uses the Utah Slanted Electrode Array (USEA). The device is implanted into the nerves within a user’s arm, along with electrodes. This allows an amputee to control the robotic hand the same way they would operate their own hand. It also enables sensation signals to be transmitted to the user’s nervous system, which creates a “looped system,” just like in a human limb, the Post reported.
A team at the University of Utah is working with the robotic arm and running an experimental program to test it. Keven Walgamott lost his hand and part of his arm in an electrical accident over a decade ago, which prompted his participation in the program. The USEA and electrodes were implanted into the nerves in Walgamott’s upper arm. While using the neuroprosthetic device, he has been reportedly able to pick up an egg without crushing it and hold his wife’s hand, among other things.
“When I went to grab something, I could feel myself grabbing it. When I thought about moving this or that finger, it would move almost right away,” he told the Post. “I don’t know how to describe it except that it was like I had a hand again.”
The results of the experimental tests have been reportedly gratifying and inspiring for the Utah researchers. The group found that adding touch to prostheses improves motor skills of amputees more than other robotic prostheses. Plus, it reportedly reduces unpleasant phantom pain, which many amputees experience.