New breakthroughs in prosthetic limb technology are offering better options for America’s wounded veterans. Firepower’s Allison Barrie shares the exciting news and advancements.
American military members make many sacrifices serving the United States. In fact, more than 1,600 have suffered the loss of a limb in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Until now, options for those who have endured an arm amputation have been limited. The quality of prosthetics has been entirely unworthy of the men and women who selflessly serve the country.
DARPA has been doggedly determined to find a way to restore limbs. For more than 10 years, this military bastion of innovation has paved the way and funded the best advances to deliver limbs that would far better restore capabilities.
The aim doesn’t stop there. In the Revolutionizing Prosthetics DARPA program, their vision is to also restore intuitive use of the new limbs with near natural control– even through thought control.
The hope is that these limbs will be so good that a service member’s options will be limitless – and that they may even return to duty if they so wish.
One of the exciting advances for those who have lost an arm is the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution) available through Mobius Bionics.
With far better capabilities, LUKE allow users to do many things again for the first time since they lost the arm. It can translate muscle signals into complex arm motions.
The bionic arm (Mobius Bionics).
Developed by DEKA Research & Development Corp., and funded by DARPA, it is the very first arm cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
About 100 wounded veterans played a vital role in this breakthrough. During development, they assisted by testing the LUKE and providing feedback. More than 10,000 hours went into honing it into the arm.
And it is now commercially available for everyone and available by prescription.
LUKE is compatible with a range of amputation levels including shoulder, above the elbow and below the elbow. And an amazing breakthrough for wounded warriors as well as those with amputations from other causes such as diabetes, trauma and cancer.
The bionic arm (Mobius Bionics).
Since 9/11, it is believed more than 1,600 American warfighters have lost hands, arms, feet or legs.
In war zones, enemies of the U.S. have deployed vicious means of attack, like hidden IEDs, that have caused horrific wounds requiring amputations.
The impact of limb loss can be devastating. In addition to physical challenges, it can have profound psychological, social and economic, social and psychological consequences.
How is LUKE different?
The LUKE arm will give wounded warriors the chance to do more complex movements with precision.
This enhanced precision, greater strength and better range will make daily activities much easier. LUKE provides a shoulder with better range, a hand that can manage both fragile and heavy items, a wrist with more dexterity and an elbow with far more strength.
With this prosthetic advance, users will have the strength to take a heavy grocery bag out of the trunk, carry it into the house from the car and heave it onto a high countertop.
Users can take advantage of the enhanced precision for tasks that require dexterity and a gentle touch such as taking something delicate like an egg out of the fridge and delivering it to the stove to make an omelet – and without the egg breaking on the way.
The LUKE arm can also do things like pour a glass of orange juice in the morning and hold a glass without spilling.
The better range means users can now reach behind their backs or for something on the top shelf over their heads.
U.S. Army Colonel Michael Heimall, Director, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC); U.S. Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Bailey, MD, Director for Surgery, WRNMMC; Colonel (Ret.) Paul Pasquina, MD, Chief of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, WRNMMC; Justin Sanchez, Ph.D., Director, Biological Technologies Office, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Lieutenant Colonel Keith Myers, MD, Director, Amputee Clinic, WRNMMC (DARPA)
How does it work?
The central control tech harnesses signals. Electromyogram (EMG) electrodes detect electrical signals from the user’s muscles. Pattern recognition tech then interprets these nerve signals and translates them into the intended arm movement.
This approach is definitely not new. The breakthrough has been just how much this tech can translate from the nerve signals and communicate to the LUKE, giving the user much better control, strength and movement.
The design incorporates multiple motors, which are key delivering the technology’s capabilities. LUKE can deliver 10 powered degrees of freedom.
To control the limb, LUKE users have a number of different input devices and approaches they can choose to use. Surface EMG electrodes and pressure switches is one option.
Another option is the foot control device, which is generally worn on top of shoes. This was the choice of the first two veterans to receive the LUKE through prescription. The IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) foot controls enable the users to intuitively control the LUKE movements.
There are a number of grasp patterns available and the user can turn them on and off depending on what is needed for the activities ahead.
It was also designed with other practical daily challenges in mind like weather and terrain. The LUKE can be worn outside and will be fine in conditions like light rain.
Now bomb robots are benefiting from the extraordinary advances made by the LUKE project too. These robots are using the LUKE hand capabilities to do their job better.
With bomb robots more capable of stopping dangerous explosive threats, this means that humans do not have to be put in harm’s way to complete the task. Not only can this save lives, it will also help prevent suffering and amputations in the future.
Thanks to DARPA and Mobius Bionics this breakthrough is now commercially available. Mobius is now finally able to accept requests from veterans. For more information, you can contact Mobius Bionics at email@example.com.
Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries. Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk” where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.