DEKA gets $7M from DARPA to develop prosthetic arm with a sense of touch

DEKA Arm--Courtesy of DEKA

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has re-upped in its long-standing relationship with DEKA Innovative Solutions. This time, it's putting $7 million into developing a prosthetic arm with a sense of touch.

It's for use under the agency's high-profile Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program, which was announced in April. The development of more sophisticated prosthetics was also highlighted as a national priority in President Obama's State of the Union speech in January. In February, DARPA said that adding a sense of touch to prosthetics was a top research priority. It gave a $20 million budget and a 5-year timeframe for achieving that goal, although European researchers reported last year that they had already created prosthetics that offer sensation.

The addition of a sense of touch would be an upgrade to the DEKA Arm System, which the FDA cleared in May 2014. The DEKA system uses electromyogram electrodes to detect electrical activity caused by the contraction of muscles close to where the prosthetic limb is attached. Electrodes can convert electrical signals into 10 powered movements. DARPA already reportedly invested at least $40 million in the approved prosthetic as part of a $100 million commitment to improved prosthetics.

DEKA Arm--Courtesy of DEKA

The latest project is expected to be conducted over a period of almost 5 years at a Manchester, NH, location.

The FDA based its approval on a four-site Department of Veterans Affairs study in which 36 participants performed common tasks. The study found that about 90% of participants could perform activities with the DEKA system that they were not able to complete before, such as using keys and locks, preparing food and using zippers.

The incorporation of haptics, or a sense of touch, is the mandate now. And after DEKA creates the device, it's expected to manufacture, deliver and train DARPA on the device as part of the latest contract. The grant is also expected to cover gaining FDA signoff on the variant to the cleared prosthetic arm.

Subsequently, DARPA will back studies to undergird the receipt of product and reimbursement code submissions to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These studies are also expected to "validate prescription criteria and explore other control techniques with the aim of ensuring the DISC (DEKA Innovative Solutions Corp.) arm system can accommodate the broadest user community possible," the Department of Defense said in a statement.

- here is the contract announcement