By Jonathan Kaupanger
It wasn’t by accident that VA Secretary, Dr. David J. Shulkin, unveiled the world’s most advanced prosthetic arm on Independence Day weekend. Joined by the first two veterans who received the device, Dr. Shulkin said that the LUKE Arm was giving veterans back their independence.
Life Under Kinetic Evolution or LUKE is a VA funded collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the prosthetics industry.
“If it wasn’t for the role of VA Research, so many things that are available commercially just wouldn’t happen,” said Shulkin.
“Because there’s just not enough money available to commercial companies to invest in the research of this type of technology. This is what the VA does and this is what Americans want from the VA, they want the very best technology available for our veterans.”
On hand to demonstrate how the arm works were veterans Fred Downs and Artie McAuley. Downs lost his arm above the elbow in the Vietnam War.
McAuley’s arm was amputated as a result of an accident while in the Army and didn’t use a prosthesis for years because the earlier generation devices didn’t work well for people with an amputation up to the shoulder.
LUKE features the first commercially available powered shoulder, with up to 10 powered degrees of freedom.
“The LUKE arm is a great tool, especially for high-level amputees like me,” McAuley said. “I’m amazed by the technology, and the level of flexibility and full range of motion, which allows me to live much more independently.”
Downs added, “The technology has definitely been an improvement in my ability to perform day to day activities, most notably in grasping. Its’ useful when an opposing hand is needed, in the workshop or while cooking.”
LUKE, which is a reference to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars, is controlled by wireless sensors worn on the amputees’ feet. By moving their feet in different ways they control the 10 computers located in the arm. To move the thumb, the wearer moves a toe, rotate the foot and the wrist rotates.
According to Downs, you do have to focus while using LUKE, but it is like riding a bike. “I hadn’t used this arm for a few weeks,” he said. “But I put it on yesterday and everything came right back to me.”
The LUKE arm is a product of about eight years of testing and research. More than 100 people were involved in the first round of testing. LUKE is the third generation of the device. It has a natural size, weight, and shape to give unparalleled comfort and ease of use.
DARPA is working another prosthetic arm that gives users a natural sense of touch by using signals transmitted from mechanical hands directly to the brain. Also in the works, one that uses signals from the brain’s motor cortex to directly control the arm.
LUKE has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is ready for commercial sales. Last year, VA took care of almost 90,000 veterans who are amputees. Around 20,000 of those were veterans with upper-limb amputations.