It’s been in the making for years, and now it’s hitting the market: the motorised prosthetic LUKE arm.
Under development and testing for years, the LUKE arm offers amputees revolutionary capabilities.
Developed by inventor Dean Kamen’s DEKA Research & Development Corp. as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Revolutionising Prosthetics program, it’s being marketed by a new medtech company, Mobius Bionics LLC, that appears to be related to DEKA.
Designed for people with forearm-through-shoulder-level amputations, the arm offers strength, flexibility and dexterity via a motorised shoulder, humeral rotator, and wrist that is capable of multiple movements, according to Mobius.
Sensors in the arm-wearer's shoes can be manipulated to control it. Electromyography sensors can read nerve signals in the muscles left in the stump. Wearers will also have grip-force feedback, enabling them to feel objects that they hold.
There’s no word yet on the cost of the LUKE arm, or on whether insurance will pay for it. No one at DEKA or Mobius responded immediately to a request for comment. Previous stories have estimated the cost at more than $100,000, which could price many would-be users out of the market.
Kamen said in 2012 that if he could not find a manufacturer for LUKE, he would do it himself. That may be what happened. DEKA and Mobius are located in Manchester. And Mobius, registered as a corporation with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office in April, has the same registered agent, who works for DEKA.
FDA gave the LUKE (Life Under Kinetic Evolution) arm de novo approval in 2014. DEKA worked for years on trials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to have veterans test the arm and provide feedback.
Mobius says it will bring LUKE to market later this year, working with contract manufacturer Universal Instruments Corp. DEKA was looking to hire employees in the past few months on behalf of Mobius. Now Mobius is taking names of amputees interested in obtaining the LUKE.
“Working one-on-one with the amputees and learning what they liked and didn’t like about using prostheses proved invaluable to our product development process,” Kamen said in a statement from Mobius. “Thanks to their insight and input, we have been able to construct the most advanced FDA-cleared design that the world of upper-limb prosthetics has seen to date.”
The arm also has different modules for varying levels of amputation. In addition to a full arm system, the LUKE can be configured without a shoulder module if the amputation is between the shoulder and elbow. If the amputation is between the elbow and the wrist, the elbow module isn't needed. The LUKE has six pre-programmed grip patterns in the hand that users can select using the controls.
Universal Instruments manufactures precision electromechanical equipment, and has been in business for more than 50 years, according to its website.
DEKA developed the LUKE arm for DARPA in response to an unfortunate need: the growing number of amputees coming out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In the same way that the U.S. Civil War spurred prosthetics innovations, America's most recent wars have done the same. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 500 Americans lose a limb every day, due to trauma, infection, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or other diseases.
The LUKE arm gets lots of press, but it’s not the only next-generation prosthesis technology out there. Swedish researchers debuted a prosthetic arm that attaches to the wearer’s bone, muscle, and nerves using a technique called osseointegration.