Arms for Amputees: Must See Video of Dean Kamen’s Touching Speech

Dean Kamen shares moving stories about his development of prosthetic arms for veterans.

Thousands lose their arms every year to accidents, disease, and war. For centuries the best technology they were offered was a hook on a stick. Now Dean Kamen wants to give them much, much more. In his impassioned speech from  TEDMED he shows us the amazing story of people who have lost part of themselves but who now have hope on the horizon. You have to see this video! Kamen’s research firm, Deka, has been working tirelessly to develop a prosthetic arm for DARPA, affectionately dubbed the Luke Arm after the Star Wars character. The progress he and his team have made – clinical trials and five active participants starting just 15 months after inception – is incredible. Yet it is the amputees, the ultimate recipients of his work, that have grabbed Kamen’s admiration and dedication. Listen to him explain why in the video below.

There’s no doubt that Dean Kamen is a rock star of technology. He has 440+ patents, he invented the Segway, and is the founder of FIRST. Still, I was surprised to hear about the confidence DARPA had in his abilities. They wanted a hand that could pick up a grape or raisin (3:23 in the video) that weighed less than 9 lbs, and was completely self contained. And they wanted in less than 2 years (5:40)! Kamen gave them a working prototype in one. You can see the Luke Arm in action starting at 8:15, with the grape test at 9:05. The focus of the talk, however, were the experiences Kamen shared with veterans at Walter Reed (10:00) and other locations, including a quadruple amputee (13:38), and a crowd of 3500 soldiers and family members (15:20).

To be honest, I tend to avoid impassioned speeches. I’m more of a cold hard facts kind of guy. I must admit though, that Kamen’s plea for funding veterans’ prostheses hit home. We should be spending more money and devoting more research to getting upper body artificial arms out of the dark ages. However, I would extend Kamen’s plea to include all amputees everywhere. Prosthetic projects should begin with veterans (that’s where the money and passion is) but they need to extend to everyone who has lost a limb. Lower body prosthetics have already made huge leaps in improvement in the last decade. Artificial arms need to undergo a similar revolution. The Deka Luke Arm is a good contender to make it happen, but there are other artificial arms with different (perhaps even better) approaches. With adequate funding each of these projects could help us find the next generation of arms and hands that help amputees recover the capabilities they have lost. I agree with Kamen’s conclusion that we should continue such research until non-amputees are jealous of the artificial limbs we can provide. Heh…now that I think about it, why stop there?

[screen capture and video credit: TEDMED]
[source: TEDMED, Deka]