Prosthetic Arm Modeled After Luke Skywalker

Prosthetic Arm Modeled After Luke Skywalker

A biomedical engineering team at the University of Utah has created a prosthetic arm inspired by a certain farm boy from Tatooine. The "LUKE Arm" could change the very notion of artificial limbs.

Prosthetic limbs aren’t exactly new – the ancient Egyptians tinkered with them as far back as 950–710 BC. But until recently, they haven’t really replaced anything. They’ve been mostly for show, with limited function and little biomechanical feedback.

“Biomimetic sensory feedback” is critical for reproducing the feel of an actual limb, and that in turn, is necessary for fine motor skills. Without that feedback, the prostheses would crush soft objects, and the “LUKE Arm” (named after some guy from an obscure Sci-Fi franchise) addresses that exact problem.

The researchers describe their findings in a paper titled “Biomimetic sensory feedback through peripheral nerve stimulation improves dexterous use of a bionic hand.”

According to their abstract, “Activation of contact sensors on the prosthesis resulted in intraneural microstimulation of residual sensory nerve fibers through chronically implanted Utah Slanted Electrode Arrays, thereby evoking tactile percepts on the phantom hand.”

In other words, it let the tester feel things. With great accuracy.

Keven Walgamott, who lost his left hand and part of his forearm in an electrical accident, was able to handle grapes and eggs without squashing them, and he was even able to hold his wife’s hand with authentic tactile feedback.

The researchers claim Walgamott was “able to distinguish between small and large objects and between soft and hard ones,” and while study participants won't be able to take one home until 2020 or 2021, this is a huge step forward for biomechanical prostheses.

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