The DARPA-funded DEKA arm is the most advanced upper limb prosthetic in the world. I was so inspired by this project that I put it on the cover of my book about DARPA, The Department of Mad Scientists, and also opened the book with it. The arm is undergoing clinical trials at SAMMC.
This is where the rubber meets the road on this project. Will soldiers actually wear it? That is, will it be comfortable enough for daily use? And, advanced, though it is, is it good enough to justify the hassle of having to spend tens of hours learning to operate a pair of joysticks, including one awkwardly placed in the user’s shoe?
“We don’t want to just create a science project,” was a refrain I heard among the docs and engineers working on Revolutionary Prosthetics, the DARPA program that led to the DEKA arm, while writing my book.
It’s up to the staff at SAMMC’s Center for the Intrepid (CFI), a state-of-the-art, free-standing rehab and research center, to make sure it isn’t so.
I heard from CFI’s director of research, Army Colonel Rachel Evans, about one major gripe soldiers testing out the arm have: you can’t walk and use it at the same time, because the motion will trigger unwanted arm functions via the joystick in the shoe.
Seems they’ll have to put up with that limitation, though, until the neurologically controlled arm, still in development through Revolutionizing Prosthetics, is ready for trials. Col. Evans agrees it’s only a matter of time.