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Amputee can feel objects again with prosthetic arm inspired by Luke Skywalker

LUKE Arm brings back sensation of touch for individual

Amputee can feel objects again with prosthetic arm inspired by Luke Skywalker

LUKE Arm brings back sensation of touch for individual

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IT OUT FOR HIMSELF REPORTER JORDAN HOGAN HAS HIS STORY. >> THE BIONIC ARM IS LIKE SOMETHING FROM THE MOVIES. IT LETS AMPUTEES NOT ONLY GRASP OBJECTS, IT GIVES THEM THE SENSE OF TOUCH BACK TOO. KEVEN WALGAMOTT SAYS HE LOST HIS HAND IN AN ACCIDENT 17 YEARS AGO. BUT NOW HE SAYS THIS NEW CLINICAL TRIAL HES A PART OF IS GIVING HIM HOP >> WE HAD TO GO THROUGH QUITE A PROCESS TO GET UP TO USING THE LUKE ARM. A LOT OF TESTING AND COMPUTER WORK. BY THE TIME WE G THERE, IT WAS TOTALLY AMAZING. JORDAN:JORDAN: THE BIONIC ARM HE IS USING IS CALLED THE LUKE ARM AFTER THE ONE LUKE SKYWALKER USES IN STAR WARS. THE ARM ITSELF WAS MADE BY A NEW HAMPSHIRE-BASED COMPAN >> THE BASIC IDEA IS TO SOME EXTENT RECREATE THE HUMAN HAND SO THAT THE USER CAN MOVE IT JUST BY THINKING ABOUT IT AND THEN IDEALLY ALSO GET A SENSE OF TOUCH BACK FROM THE HAND. JORDAN: THIS MEANS KEVEN CAN PERFORM MORE DELICATE TASKS THAT WOULD USUALLY BE IMPOSSIBLE WITH A STANDARD PROSTHETIC ARM. >> A CORRUGATED WALL AND I WAS ABLE TO FEEL THE BUMPS ON THE CORRUGATION AND THAT WAS A FIRST TIME IN 13 YEARS THAT ID EVER -- THAT I HAD EVER DONE THAT. IT ABOUT MADE ME CRY. IT WAS EXCITING. JORDAN: THE ENGINEERS SAY THE LUKE ARM TAPS INTO EXISTING MUSCLES AND NERVES. FOR NOW, THE PERSON USING IT IS EITHER TETHERED TO A STACK OF COMPUTERS OR CAN USE A MORE PORTABLE DEVICE THAT REQUIRES AN ENGINEER TO OPERAT >> WERE TRYING TO MOVE THESE TOWARDS MORE PORTABLE SYSTEMS AS WELL AS MAKING THEM WIRELESSLY. >> I WAS SAD COULD NOT TAKE IT OUT OF THE LAB. JORDAN:JORDAN: KEVIN SAYS HE IS EXCITED ABOUT WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS ESPECIALLY AFTER BEING ABLE TO HOLD ONTO HIS WIFE’S HANDS WITH HI BIOLOGICAL AND BIONIC HANDS. >> WHEN I TOUCHED HER HAND, WAS ABLE TO FEEL AND THEN WE EVENTUALLY CLASPED HANDS WITH BOTH HANDS, IT WAS, IT WAS RATHER VERY EMOTIONAL. AMY: THE PROSTHETIC IS DESIGNED TO ALLOW THE USER TO CONTROL MOVEMENTS JUST BY THINKING ABOUT THEM. YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT THE RESEARCH AND THE WORK STILL BEING DONE IN THE S
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Amputee can feel objects again with prosthetic arm inspired by Luke Skywalker

LUKE Arm brings back sensation of touch for individual

About 17 years ago, Keven Walgamott lost his left hand and part of his forearm in an electrical accident. Now, Walgamott can use his thoughts to tell the fingers of his bionic hand to pick up eggs and grapes. The prosthetic arm he tested also allowed Walgamott to feel the objects he grasped.A biomedical engineering team at the University of Utah created the "LUKE Arm," named in honor of the robotic hand Luke Skywalker obtains in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" after Darth Vader slices off his hand with a lightsaber.A new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics explained how the arm revived the sensation of touch for Walgamott. The University of Chicago and the Cleveland Clinic were also involved in the study.Previous research has indicated that the ability to feel things is key for amputees. Without that sensation, it's easy to squeeze too hard and crush an object when trying to pick it up using a prosthetic, especially if metal hooks and claws are being used.The LUKE Arm sends signals to the brain in order to mimic the way a human hand can feel and sense information about an object, like whether it's soft, hard, lightweight or heavy."We changed the way we are sending that information to the brain so that it matches the human body. And by matching the human body, we were able to see improved benefits," said Jacob George, study author and biomedical engineering doctoral student at the University of Utah. "We're making more biologically realistic signals."Walgamott is a real estate agent from West Valley City, Utah. He participated in the study as one of seven test subjects.During different tests using the LUKE Arm, Walgamott was able to handle delicate tasks like removing grapes from their stems and picking up eggs without crushing or cracking them. He was even able to hold his wife's hand and reported having a similar sensation in the fingers of the arm to that of a human hand."It almost put me to tears," Walgamott said after using the LUKE Arm for the first time in 2017. "It was really amazing. I never thought I would be able to feel in that hand again."The researchers used modeling and mathematics to make the arm a success. It was in development for 15 years and is composed of metal motors with a clear silicone overlay that mimics skin. The New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp., founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, created it.The arm draws power from an external battery and is also wired to a computer.The university came up with the system that would enable to arm to integrate with the human body so the arm could receive signals. Utah Emeritus Distinguished Professor Richard A. Normann invented the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, a grouping of 100 microelectrodes and wires implanted in the forearm's nerves and connected to an external computer.The array was able to read signals from the nerves remaining in Walgamott's arm while the computer converted them into digital signals. The signals would act like messages for the arm to move.But in order to be successful, things would have to work the opposite way, as well, meaning the LUKE Arm would need to be able to sense objects and understand the necessary pressure needed to hold them.Sensors in the hand of the LUKE Arm send signals through the array to the existing nerves, communicating the feeling the hand should be receiving when it touches something.This mimics the way signals are sent to the brain when a human hand encounters something for the first time, which relies on an impulse burst released from the nerves to the brain.To recreate this in the LUKE Arm, the researchers recorded impulses as they happened in a primate's arm. This enabled them to create a model that was integrated into the prosthetic arm system."Just providing sensation is a big deal, but the way you send that information is also critically important, and if you make it more biologically realistic, the brain will understand it better and the performance of this sensation will also be better," said Gregory Clark, study team leader and Utah engineering associate professor.In the study, the LUKE Arm was also able to help sense other things like temperature and pain.The next steps include creating a more portable arm that doesn't require a computer connection, granting the person wireless freedom. They also believe their findings could be applied to people who were amputated above the elbow, since their arm has only been tested on those with amputations below the elbow.The researchers hope that study participants could take home the arm to use by 2020 or 2021, but federal regulatory approval is pending."One of the first things wanted to do was put on his wedding ring. That's hard to do with one hand," says Clark. "It was very moving."

About 17 years ago, Keven Walgamott lost his left hand and part of his forearm in an electrical accident. Now, Walgamott can use his thoughts to tell the fingers of his bionic hand to pick up eggs and grapes. The prosthetic arm he tested also allowed Walgamott to feel the objects he grasped.

A biomedical engineering team at the University of Utah created the "LUKE Arm," named in honor of the robotic hand Luke Skywalker obtains in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" after Darth Vader slices off his hand with a lightsaber.

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A new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics explained how the arm revived the sensation of touch for Walgamott. The University of Chicago and the Cleveland Clinic were also involved in the study.

Previous research has indicated that the ability to feel things is key for amputees. Without that sensation, it's easy to squeeze too hard and crush an object when trying to pick it up using a prosthetic, especially if metal hooks and claws are being used.

The LUKE Arm sends signals to the brain in order to mimic the way a human hand can feel and sense information about an object, like whether it's soft, hard, lightweight or heavy.

"We changed the way we are sending that information to the brain so that it matches the human body. And by matching the human body, we were able to see improved benefits," said Jacob George, study author and biomedical engineering doctoral student at the University of Utah. "We're making more biologically realistic signals."

Walgamott is a real estate agent from West Valley City, Utah. He participated in the study as one of seven test subjects.

During different tests using the LUKE Arm, Walgamott was able to handle delicate tasks like removing grapes from their stems and picking up eggs without crushing or cracking them. He was even able to hold his wife's hand and reported having a similar sensation in the fingers of the arm to that of a human hand.

"It almost put me to tears," Walgamott said after using the LUKE Arm for the first time in 2017. "It was really amazing. I never thought I would be able to feel in that hand again."

The researchers used modeling and mathematics to make the arm a success. It was in development for 15 years and is composed of metal motors with a clear silicone overlay that mimics skin. The New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp., founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, created it.

University of Utah biomedical engineering doctoral student Jacob George, left, and associate professor Gregory Clark, helped develop the technology that enables the wearer of the LUKE Arm to sense touch.
 Credit: Dan Hixson/Univ of Utah College of Engineering
Dan Hixson/Univ of Utah
University of Utah biomedical engineering doctoral student Jacob George, left, and associate professor Gregory Clark, helped develop the technology that enables the wearer of the LUKE Arm to sense touch.

The arm draws power from an external battery and is also wired to a computer.

The university came up with the system that would enable to arm to integrate with the human body so the arm could receive signals. Utah Emeritus Distinguished Professor Richard A. Normann invented the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, a grouping of 100 microelectrodes and wires implanted in the forearm's nerves and connected to an external computer.

The array was able to read signals from the nerves remaining in Walgamott's arm while the computer converted them into digital signals. The signals would act like messages for the arm to move.

But in order to be successful, things would have to work the opposite way, as well, meaning the LUKE Arm would need to be able to sense objects and understand the necessary pressure needed to hold them.

Sensors in the hand of the LUKE Arm send signals through the array to the existing nerves, communicating the feeling the hand should be receiving when it touches something.

This mimics the way signals are sent to the brain when a human hand encounters something for the first time, which relies on an impulse burst released from the nerves to the brain.

To recreate this in the LUKE Arm, the researchers recorded impulses as they happened in a primate's arm. This enabled them to create a model that was integrated into the prosthetic arm system.

"Just providing sensation is a big deal, but the way you send that information is also critically important, and if you make it more biologically realistic, the brain will understand it better and the performance of this sensation will also be better," said Gregory Clark, study team leader and Utah engineering associate professor.

In the study, the LUKE Arm was also able to help sense other things like temperature and pain.

An electrode array that was implanted in the participant's arm.
Jacob George/Univ of Utah
An electrode array that was implanted in the participant’s arm.

The next steps include creating a more portable arm that doesn't require a computer connection, granting the person wireless freedom. They also believe their findings could be applied to people who were amputated above the elbow, since their arm has only been tested on those with amputations below the elbow.

The researchers hope that study participants could take home the arm to use by 2020 or 2021, but federal regulatory approval is pending.

"One of the first things [Walgamott] wanted to do was put on his wedding ring. That's hard to do with one hand," says Clark. "It was very moving."