Cool hand, LUKE: A new robotic arm enables amputees to ‘feel’ again

LUKE arm

Researchers at Mobius Bionics and the University of Utah have created a revolutionary prosthesis that could return the sense of touch to amputees.

Called the ‘LUKE’ arm (Life Under Kinetic Evolution), and named after the eponymous character lost his own right hand in a duel against Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back, the cutting-edge prosthesis has used new technologies to not only enable amputees to manipulate the arm itself, but further wire feedback into the brain to restore the sensation of touch.

The LUKE arm relies on a small implant to deliver sensory information to the human brain; a user’s amputated limb is connected to electrodes, which feed into the remainder of their arm and into the LUKE arm itself. Corresponding, as the user thinks about moving their new limb or does so by instinct, electrical activity in the brain is translated to the prosthesis, where instructions and information (such as movement and the sensation of touch) are relayed.

Researchers have established that familiarity with the system is not instantaneous – that is, new users will have to acclimatize to their new limb in order to use it as gracefully as they might have manipulated their original – though early indications point to the fact that the learning curve involved is a gentle one. The LUKE arm itself features a raft of embedded sensors that, when stimulated, emulate the feeling and pressure of touch.

ScienceAlert reports that one user, equipped with a LUKE arm, has been successful in handling graps, peeling a banana, and has even managed to squeeze – and sense – his wife’s hand.

Trials are set to continue over the next three years, whereafter amputees receiving the limb might finally be able to take it home with them. Patients in the US can already purchase the ‘default’ LUKE arm.

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