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Last night’s 60 Minutes program aired a piece highlighting the amazing work being done in the U.S. Department of Defense to revolutionize prosthetics. The segment featured the DEKA Arm, developed by everyone’s favorite Segway inventor, Dean Kamen. He’s had some success making transportation so simple a chimp could use it! So, I was looking forward to seeing what his nimble mind could come up with.

The DEKA Arm

deka-armDean’s DEKA Arm is being developed as part of the DoD”s DARPA Program, which is a very cool website to go explore. There are seemingly programs for everything futuristic you could imagine! This specific program comes from the Defense Sciences Office, in the Revolutionizing Prosthestics Project. The DEKA Arm allows users to pick up such delicate items as a grape, yet still be strong enough to power a drill. Even the interface with the residual lmb has been re-designed and is presumably superior.

The key point to these new prosthetics is the interface between the highly powerful processors living inside lightweight, high-tech materials and the human’s neural system.The DEKA Arm looks like it could be a big breakthrough in technology that’s previously been out of reach. The wrist alone contains 3 PC’s worth of processing power! I’m proud of the DoD for their efforts on this project.

The most interesting quote from the 60 Minutes program was this:

“I’m not really learning [to use the prosthetic arm] as much as the computer is.”

Wow! I’ve been searching all morning for rehabilitation programs that combine biotechnology and physical therapy degrees. No luck so far.

The Biotechnology PT

I think the Biotechnology Physical Therapist is coming soon to a clinic near you. I’m curious to see how technologies such as this will alter the landscape of traditional rehabilitation. This is a bit more specialized than strapping on a prosthetic device that was designed in 1940, even if the fundamentals of movement are the same. Modern rehabilitative specialists will need to understand and be able to affect sophisticated neural interfaces and computerized devices. Imagine that instead of strengthening a hip muscle, I only need to alter the output on processor #3-C to invoke the gait pattern I desire for the patient!

And people wonder why I spend so much time investigating every new technology I discover. Neural interfaces, stem cells, genetic scaffolds are technologies that are here already. I’m excited to see what the future brings!