DARPA’s LUKE APAS bionic arm features 10-powered degrees of movement and can be controlled using multiple input devices. (via DARPA)
According to an article from the Washington Times back in December of 2014, more than 50,000 troops have been wounded since the War on Terror began. Of those wounded, 2.6% have lost a major limb due in most part to IEDs. So many in fact, that a host of medical and robotics institutions have been designing bionic limbs shortly after the start of the war that make traditional prosthetics seem everything but obsolete.
As with anything robotic or bionic, DARPA has been developing their own prosthesis with the help of Mobius Bionics and DEKA Integrated Solutions to bring about the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution) Advanced Prosthetic Arm System. Eight years after initial development on the LUKE began and after several more with FDA approval, the first shipment of the bionic arms was delivered to Walter Reed Medical Center for service members who have suffered upper-limb loss.
The LUKE design allows for 10-powered degrees of freedom using a series of servomotors and flexors- including powered shoulder movement, bicep rotator and wrist flexor with the ability to manipulate in several directions in almost the same way a human arm would. What’s more, multiple motors and flexors can be activated at any given time, allowing for a more natural movement.
LUKE’s hand is capable of going far beyond G.I. Joe’s ‘Kung-Fu’ grip with six different preprogrammed user-selectable functions and even has a force-feedback system, allowing users to grip fragile objects such as eggs without breaking them. The hand itself is covered by a flexible transparent material to protect it against light rain and dust so it can be used outdoors but you probably would not want to use it adverse conditions or to perform arduous tasks (not sure how much weight it can lift).
A sensor housed in the hand provides vibrational force-feedback, allowing the users to handle delicate objects.
The great thing about the LUKE APAS is that it can be controlled using several input devices including using EMG electrodes, pressure/rocker switches, linear transducers and even intuitive wireless IMUs, which can be worn on the user’s foot. Powering the arm is a pair of rechargeable Li-ion batteries, with a 7000mAh for the shoulder and bicep actuators/flexors and a 5000mAh for the wrist and hand.
DARPA plans on continuing the development for the LUKE arm to be even more life-like with greater dexterity and are looking to connect the arm directly to the patient’s peripheral and central nervous systems in order to gain ‘highly-refined sensory experiences’ according to DARPA’s Director of Biological Technologies Office Justin Snachez. It is unclear if LUKE will become available for all amputees other than vets at this point but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
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