DARPA Gives Combat Heroes Who Have Lost A Limb Access To Star Wars Inspired LUKE Bionic ARM

It does not matter what your political affiliation is, if any, we should all be able to agree that more can be done to take care of our military veterans. That is why DARPA (Defense Advanced Researched Projects Agency) deserves major kudos this holiday season. DARPA has developed a sophisticated bionic arm and is offering these upper-limb prostheses to amputees who are U.S. war veterans.

The prosthetic system is cleverly named LUKE, which stands for Life Under Kinetic Evolution, but is also an intentional reference to the limb Luke Skywalker wielded in Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back. It is a battery powered limb that is about the size and weight of a flesh and blood arm. The prosthetic limb gives amputees "extremely dexterous" movement of the arm and hand along with grip force feedback through simple and intuitive controls. Simultaneous control of multiple joints is made possible using a variety of inputs, one of them being wireless signals beamed from sensors on the user's feet.


"The commercial production and availability of these remarkable arms for patients marks a major milestone in the RP program and, most importantly, an opportunity for our wounded warriors to enjoy a major enhancement in their quality of life," Sanchez said. "And we are not stopping here. In addition to supporting the initial production of these near-natural prostheses, the RP program is continuing to make huge strides in the restoration of upper arm control. Ultimately we envision these limbs providing even greater dexterity and highly refined sensory experiences by connecting them directly to users’ peripheral and central nervous systems."

Developing advanced prosthetic arms and hands has been a tougher challenge for researchers compared to prosthetic legs. That's because arms have much greater degrees of dexterity to duplicate. At the time DARPA first began working on the LUKE arm, advanced prosthetic upper limbs were mostly limited to using a "split-hook" device that had seen little change since being introduced in 1912. In that way, the LUKE arm is very much a game changer.

It took DARPA nearly eight years to develop and produce LUKE and gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for its advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb. As part of an agreement with WRNMMC, DARPA will hand over LUKE arms from an initial production run to the medical center for prescription to patients.