The man behind the Segway scooter has a new invention: bionic arms for wounded soldiers.
Called the "Luke Arm" after the prosthetic hand sported by Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies, Dean Kamen's device is lightweight, self-contained and fully capable of picking up grapes, baby bottles, even electric drills.
Kamen says the Department of Defense approached him and his company, DEKA, in 2005 about the project, not the other way around.
"This guy visits and basically says, 'Look, we've had 1,600 kids go over [to Iraq] and lose an arm. Two dozen have lost two,'" Kamen tells Newsweek in a story for next week's issue. "'At the end of the Civil War, we gave them a hook on a stick. Now we give them a hook at the end of a plastic tube.'"
The Luke Arm has four fingers and an opposable thumb, and was designed to be controlled by muscular movement in the wearer's remaining limbs.
But thanks to neurological advances in "targeted renervation" by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, the Luke Arm can now connect directly to motor nerves, meaning it can be controlled purely by thought alone.
And the nerve connections are two-way: The wearer gets "force feedback" about his own grip and movements, allowing him to pick up an empty water bottle without crushing it.