In Feb 2008 IEEE Spectrum released a fantastic special report on some of the latest work being done on prosthetic arms.
The special report covers a lot of ground, but mostly focuses on DARPA’s Revolutionizing Prosthetics program:
The program was created in 2005 to fund the development of two arms. The first initiative, the four-year, US $30.4 million Revolutionizing Prosthetics contract, to be completed in 2009, led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., seeks a fully functioning, neurally controlled prosthetic arm using technology that is still experimental. The latter, awarded to Deka Research and Development Corp., Kamen’s New Hampshire–based medical products company (perhaps best known for the Segway), is a two-year $18.1 million 2007 effort to give amputees an advanced prosthesis that could be available immediately “for people who want to literally strap it on and go.” Kamen’s team designed the Deka arm to be controlled with noninvasive measures, using an interface a bit like a joystick.
Because there are only about 6,000 prosthetic arms needed per year, the market has not been big enough to justify the large investment required to make next generation prosthetic arms. As a result it is amazing to note that commercially available prosthetic arm technology has not changed much in 100 years and is stuck in the “stone age”! Meanwhile prosthetic legs have seen significant investment and are extremely advanced and capable today.
The DARPA funding has literally changed the game by providing the investment necessary to propel prosthetic arms into the current era and beyond. In subsequent posts I will highlight some of the more notable aspects of this report.