Monday, October 25, 2010

Dean Karmen's robotic arm defeats the Segway...hands down.

Now, who would've thought that one of the oddest technological devices to ever grace our green and blue planet would help in the development of some of the world`s latest and best robotic prostheses?

Meet the "Luke" arm, named after Luke Skywalker's mangled robotic hand in the Empire Strikes Back (this is a tech and science blog, there will be lots of Star Wars talk, deal with it).

Developed by former Segway inventor, Dean Karmen (creator of the biggest what-were-you-thinking invention ever made), it could potentially revolutionize not only prostheses but human-robotic interactions; *cough* cyborgs *cough*. The first thing noticeable about the arm, and how it differs from the multitude of other robotic prostheses, is how fluid and precise the movements are. The arm's electronics are apparently designed to sense motor neuron signals in the upper arm, or in the case of a completely missing arm: foot and leg movements, or even neural signals! Integrating all this with complex computer processing yields arm motion that is extremely smooth and well coordinated even to finer movements, like eating a chocolate-covered raisin.

The arm itself seems so revolutionary simply because it seems to mimic human arm movement so well, down to the finest of movements. On top of that, it seems quite simple to control, although it's bound to have some learning curve. I sincerely believe that this is the direction biomedical science will be heading, towards more and more integration of humans with technological implants and "add-ons". Think of them as iphone apps for the body! It may sound far fetched, but recall some months back a story about a man with an RFID chip implanted in his arm being able to remotely access things (bank account, door access etc.). I suppose I should start saving up for those robotic wings I'll be purchasing sometime in the near future...I hear they'll be quite expensive.

Video Credit: IEEE Spectrum