Ever since movies like “Star Wars” and “The Terminator”, people have wondered about having body parts like the ones seen in these films. And thanks to the efforts of Dean Kamen, we are closer than ever to that reality.
For as long as anyone can remember there have been wars. Some are fought nobly and some for other reasons. Since the beginning of the most recent war in Iraq, Americans have been coming back home bearing the scars and wounds they gave in defense of our great nation. The army has spared no expense to save the lives of these brave soldiers when overseas. If they suffer a serious injury that causes loss of a limb, more than likely they will have to wear a prosthetic when they come home that hasn’t been updated much since World War II. Even though the technology of our world is growing by the day, constructing a robotic arm with a fully functional hand has been no where near possible, until now. The DEKA arm is the latest breakthrough in a $100 million Pentagon program known as “Revolutionizing Prosthetics.”
Fred Downs is the head of prosthetics for the Veteran’s Health Administration and has been wearing a prosthetic arm after he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam in 1968. According to Downs, the arm he wears is “a basic hook. I can rotate the hook and lock it. In those days  they didn’t have a lot of sophistication about it. They fit you and say ‘This is your arm, this is your leg.’ And it was the best technology in those days. You just had to make yourself learn how to use it, and I did.”
Leading the “Revolutionizing Prosthetics” project is Dr. Geoffrey Ling, a neurologist and U.S. Army Colonel. “There is a hook, like something out of Peter Pan, and that is just unacceptable.” When touring around the Walter Reed Medical Army Center and meeting the troops he is working for, Ling states, “We have a saying in the military, ‘Leave no one behind.’ We are very serious about that. And that doesn’t mean just on the battlefield but back home as well.” And because this is such a big project, Dr. Ling has enlisted the help of Dean Kamen, who is widely considered a “rock star” in the world of inventors.
This new prosthetic, comically named “the Luke arm”, after the neat prosthetic worn by Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars, is funded by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. Kamen’s New Hampshire-based medical products company known as The Deka Research and Development Corp. is the head of the project of the Deka arm.
A 650 square-meter space on the second floor of Kamen’s building is solely dedicated to the advancement of the Deka arm. In the entrance is a life size Terminator statue that is missing it’s left arm, which has been replaced by the harness of the Deka arm. Volunteers, like Chuck Hindreth, come to Deka to help engineers prepare for clinical trials. Hindreth lost both of his arms after suffering electrocution while painting a power substation over 26 years ago. Since then, Hindreth has had two prosthetic arms since that accident, although he never wears them. After the initial shock of having a limb amputated wears off, patients generally discontinue wearing their prosthetic. This is because the discomfort of wearing the artificial limbs are not worht the small amount of assistance provided by them. Most get hot, sweaty, slippery, and generally uncomfortable.
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