'Star Wars' robotic arm lets amputee veteran go rock climbing

The DEKA robotic arm -- funded by DARPA and nicknamed "Luke" -- helped this army vet climb again.

Anthony Domanico
CNET freelancer Anthony Domanico is passionate about all kinds of gadgets and apps. When not making words for the Internet, he can be found watching Star Wars or "Doctor Who" for like the zillionth time. His other car is a Tardis.
Anthony Domanico
2 min read

Losing a limb can mean new limits, even an end to some favortie activities, but science continues to offer promising progress in this area. An awesome bionic arm from DEKA recently helped one military vet do something traditional prosthetics wouldn't allow him to do -- hit the rock-climbing wall again.

As seen in the video above, released this week, the US Army veteran tried the DEKA arm at a climbing wall at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The DEKA is designed to provide a high level of control, and aside from a minor slip of the hand when grabbing onto the first rock, the vet is able to climb the rock wall with ease, if a bit more slowly than he previously could have.

The DEKA robotic arm system is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was developed by Dean Kamen, who created the Segway. It lets wearers do things like control multiple joints, get feedback on how firmly they're grasping an object and even finely control individual fingers on the hand. This means it can be used for things other prosthetics can't, like using zippers and drinking out of a plastic water bottle.

The current DEKA arm system uses electromyogram electrodes, which measure the electrical activity of muscles at rest and during contraction, to read signals sent by muscles in the remaining part of the arm and shoulder, as well as wireless sensors on the wearer's feet. DEKA and DARPA are looking into mind control for future versions of the system, bringing us ever closer to having a bionic arm that functions as perfectly as Luke Skywalker's bionic hand in the later parts of the "Star Wars" series. (In fact, as a nod to the series, the DEKA team affectionately refers to their arm as "Luke.")

DEKA received FDA approval in 2014 that gave the company the go-ahead to explore releasing the robotic arm commercially, though no commercial availability has yet been announced. So while it may be a while until you see technology like this in everyday life, as the videos in this story show, amputees may be one step closer to finding new possibilities like Skywalker.

(Via Mirror)