I have seen news stories about robotic arms. What is really out there for people to use?
Advances in upper extremity prosthetics have come slowly over the last 100 years. The first prosthetics were cable-driven devices or body-powered prostheses. These required the user to be able to move his/her body (usually the shoulder) to pull on a cable to bend and straighten the arm or open and close a hook. Most big leaps forward have, unfortunately, come from wartime injuries. Cable-driven prosthetics became the norm around the time of WWI, WWII and the Korean War. During Vietnam, myoelectric prostheses emerged. Myoelectric prostheses are controlled with the electric signals produced by muscles in the person’s remaining arm. Now, after 15 years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, the area of upper extremity prosthetics is ready to make another big jump.
Upper extremity prosthetics have made a splash in the news during the past 10 years as a result of the 2006 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Revolutionizing Prosthetics project. The program grew from a desire to make an arm that moves exactly like a human arm. Dean Kamen (creator of the Segway) helped develop the DEKA Arm, sometimes called the “Luke arm” after Luke Skywalker. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab created the APL limb. While the APL limb is still in the research stage, the DEKA Arm was approved for the market by the FDA in 2014. Other prostheses on the market include the Michaelangelo hand from Ottobock, and the iLimb hand from TouchBionics.