Combat veterans returning home with an arm missing might soon be equipped with the most sophisticated prosthetic on the planet and actually regain their sense of touch. DARPA is investing nearly $7 million in the “Luke Arm," named after Luke Skywalker, after President Obama called for more sophisticated resources for American soldiers coming home from the battlefield.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the U.S. military announced Thursday it will help fund the project as part of a contract with DEKA, a New Hampshire-based research firm. The DEKA Arm (the official name for the prosthetic, though it's been popularized as the Luke Arm) made headlines earlier this year when DARPA released a video of an amputee using it to climb a rock wall. DARPA first invested $18.1 million in the project, and is now adding another seven to regain the actual feel of an arm.
“The arm is also configurable with different modules for different levels of amputation,” the research agency said in a statement Thursday. “There's the full arm system, or 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 preprogrammed grip patterns in the hand that users can select using controls.”
Whatever the developments, though, even DARPA admitted that most of the people the Luke Arm was actually designed for will probably never have the chance to use it. The majority of “private insurers appear to be unpersuaded when it comes to covering such advanced prosthetics,” DARPA noted, adding that the cost per unit could exceed $100,000.