Army’s Robotic Prosthetic Arm Demo’d


I have previously written about the Army’s robotic prosthetic arm projects – run of course through DARPA.  You can see my posts and a video fest at Video Fest of Brain-Computer Links & Control. 

An equally amazing story is how the project has come to be- DARPA contacted Deam Kamen (and team at DEKA of Segway fame) and challenged him to create this amazing feat of technology. The NYT reports

Eighteen months ago Segway entrepreneur and serial inventor Dean Kamen received a visit from Anthony Tether, the electrical engineer who runs the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the military’s research and development agency.

Mr. Tether had come to Mr. Kamen’s rural western Massachusetts workshop to persuade him to tackle a challenging engineering problem: a robotic arm that would make it possible for any of the 1,600 or more Iraq veteran amputees to resume a semblance of a normal life.

Mr. Kamen, who designed the two-wheeled Segway balancing transporter and several high tech wheel chairs, and who has a wealth of robotic engineering expertise, said that he initially thought the idea “was nuts.”

A more extensive review of the two parts of the project is at Wired’s Danger Room where Noah reports on the two phases of the program. 

Project 1 – the Holy Grail: Kuniholm and his fellow engineers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL, are at work on the most ambitious prosthetics project in history. They seek the field’s holy grail — to build an artificial human arm that acts, looks and feels to its user like his native arm, and to do it with astonishing speed by the end of 2009.  (called Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009)

Project 2- Hedge your bets:  The Kamen project: produce the best prosthetic arm possible with currently available technology

For now, both Deka and APL are based on cutting-edge myoelectric control systems pioneered by Todd Kuiken at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, or RIC. Conventional myoelectric controls use electrodes on the surface of the skin to read muscle signals from some part of a user’s body unaffected by his amputation — his back for example — and pass the signal on to an artificial limb. The user twitches her back, and the limb moves in response.


A video has been released of the project’s progress so far in a demo. It was shown at the DARPA tech conference.  You can check it out here (sorry can’t get the player to run in wordpress blog engine).

Another video is here

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