NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Remember the robotic arm Luke Skywalker got in one of the Star Wars movies? Well, now science fiction is becoming a reality.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have developed a prosthetic arm for amputee vets.
It’s a remarkable demonstration of what a combination of modern robotics, prosthetics, and computer control can do.
Amputee vets Fred Downs and Artie McAuley each lost their arms decades ago, but on Monday they showed off the capabilities of their new bionic prosthesis called the Like Arm.
Doing everything from picking things up to feeding themselves, to opening pill bottles — it’s something neither man thought they’d ever be able to do again.
“You always think you’re going to be an amputee for life,” McAuley said. “This is like being reunited with an arm.”
“You can imagine not having an arm for all those years and then being able to do something with the left hand, again. Oh, a very emotional moment. Still is,” Downs said.
The battery powered motors in the arm are controlled by the vet’s feet. Moving toes or heels up, rolling feet to the right or left; those actions are sense by motion detectors called accelerometers, essentially the same as the ones in smartphones.
Those motions are transmitted wirelessly to the arm.
Downs selects what kind of action the bionic arm performs when his feet are tapping a pad on his side with his other arm. Even more amazing is that the user can tell how hard he’s squeezing something.
The Luke Arm is now commercially available through the VA system, and also to non-veterans from the manufacturer Mobius.
It’s a remarkable achievement facilitated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
“This went from zero to prototype to FDA to a commercialized arm in just 12 years,” Dr. Justin Sanchez from DARPA said.
Now comes the hard part — paying for the arm.
The VA says it will try to get one to vets who need it, and non-vets can also order one.
But the manufacturer hasn’t placed a price tag on the Luke Arm and even though the cost will go down as more are made, it’s still likely to be very expensive.