Sponsored By
Norbert Sparrow

July 13, 2016

3 Min Read
Segway inventor’s revolutionary prosthetic arm set for commercial launch

Upper-limb amputees will have the possibility to radically transform their day-to-day lives later this year, if they can afford it. Medical device startup Mobius Bionics (Manchester, NH) has announced the commercial introduction of the LUKE prosthetic arm for late 2016, the first such device cleared by FDA in the new product category for integrated prosthetic arms. The device provides unmatched levels of flexibility, strength and dexterity to people with forearm through shoulder amputations. This game-changing technology has a price, however: Although there is no official word on the cost, sister brand Qmed, citing previous articles on the research, estimates that it will run more than $100,000, and there is no indication at the present time if insurance providers will cover it.

The LUKE arm has been in the works since 2006. It was developed by DEKA Research & Development Corp. as part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics program. Additional funding came from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command through a contract with the Army Research Office. The program’s goal was to develop an advanced electromechanical prosthetic upper limb with near natural control that would dramatically enhance independence and improve quality of life for amputees. The military was keenly interested in this project because of the number of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs.

The LUKE arm truly is a game changing technology. Advances in prosthetics historically have been incremental in nature. Through the use of the latest technologies in electronics, motors, batteries and materials, the LUKE arm breaks with this tradition by fundamentally altering the functionality of prosthetic devices. It allows users to reach behind their backs, hold a glass of water without spilling it and pick up something as fragile as an egg or as heavy as a gallon of milk without worrying that the item will slip or break. A grip force sensor detects how firmly something is being grasped and communicates that information to the brain. The prosthetic system integrates other sensors, including one that is mounted on the foot and electromyography sensors that can read nerve signals left in the stump, providing the user with multiple ways to control the arm.

Nearly 100 amputees have put the device through its paces during more than 10,000 hours of testing. In the words of one amputee who participated in a DEKA clinical study, the arm’s functionality “far surpasses anything that I’ve had so far.” Dean Kamen, President of DEKA Research & Development, explained in a statement from Mobius, “We developed the LUKE arm to change the game for amputees—creating an innovative, integrated system that offers greater functionality and independence to our wounded warriors and other amputees.”

The name Dean Kamen will be familiar to some of you. He is perhaps best known for inventing the Segway, but he has an impressive CV as in inventor and entrepreneur stretching back many years. He invented the first drug infusion pump, which he marketed through AutoSyringe, a company that he founded, and his company DEKA holds patents on the technology used in portable dialysis machines and the iBOT all-terrain, electric wheelchair.

Qmed reports that Kamen said in 2012 that if he could not find a manufacturer for LUKE, he would do it himself. Nancy Crotti, writing for Qmed, speculates that may be what happened. “DEKA and Mobius are located in Manchester. And Mobius, registered as a corporation with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office in April, has the same registered agent, who works for DEKA,” writes Crotti.

Mobius Bionics has chosen Universal Instruments Corp. (Binghamton, NY) to serve as the contract manufacturer for the LUKE arm. Universal Instruments designs and manufactures advanced automation and assembly systems for the global electronics manufacturing industry. Its customers include such high-profile companies as Bosch, Rockwell Automation, Delphi, GE and Foxconn.

To see the arm in action, watch the video below, which shows amputee Fred Downs performing household tasks using the prosthetic device.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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