By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON, May 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a robotic arm for amputees that is named for the "Star Wars" character Luke Skywalker and can perform multiple, simultaneous movements.
The FDA said on Friday it allowed the sale of the DEKA Arm System after reviewing data, including a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study in which 90 percent of people who used the device were able to perform complex activities. These included using keys and locks, preparing food, feeding themselves, using zippers, and brushing and combing hair.
The prosthetic arm, developed by New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp, received funding from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office. The company was founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and other devices.
"The DEKA Arm System may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm," Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.
The prosthesis is the same shape and weight as an adult arm, the FDA said. It said the device is the first prosthetic arm that can carry out multiple, simultaneous movements controlled by signals from electromyogram electrodes that detect electrical activity caused by the contraction of muscles.
The electrodes send signals to a computer processor in the arm, which can then make up to 10 specific movements using a combination of switches and sensors.
The agency said the robotic arm could be used by people with limb loss occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm or mid-lower arm, but not at the elbow or wrist joint.
The company said the arm is dubbed "Luke" after Luke Skywalker, a character in the 1980 film "The Empire Strikes Back" whose hand is sliced off in a duel is replaced with a robotic version.
In the Department of Veterans Affairs study, 36 people provided data on how the arm performed in common household and self-care tasks.
The Pentagon's interest in the device came about because of the type of injuries sustained by U.S. troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Pentagon said more than 1,800 U.S. service members underwent major limb amputations as a result of injuries sustained in those wars. (Reporting by Will Dunham. Editing by Andre Grenon)