February 4, 2008
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The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., has received a contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to complete development of a prosthetic arm that will be controlled, feel, look and perform like a natural limb. Funding will support Phase 2 of DARPA's Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 (RP 2009) program, an ambitious effort to provide the most advanced medical and rehabilitative technologies for military personnel injured in the line of duty.
In Phase 1, the APL-led RP 2009 team of approximately 30 organizations developed two prototypes. The first prototype, presented to DARPA less than a year after the project started, is a fully integrated prosthetic arm that can be controlled naturally, provide sensory feedback and allows for eight degrees of freedom — a level of control far beyond the current state of the art for prosthetic limbs. The Proto 1 limb system also includes a virtual environment used for patient training, clinical configuration, and to record limb movements and control signals during clinical investigations.
The second prototype, demonstrated at DARPA Tech 2007 last August, has 25 individual joints that approach the natural speed and range of motion of the human limb. These mechanical limb systems are complemented by a range of emerging neural integration strategies that promise to restore near-natural control and important sensory feedback capabilities.
The team's Phase 1 efforts have been recognized by DARPA Director Tony Tether, the scientific community and the media, including nomination as a finalist for DARPA's 2007 Most Significant Technical Achievement Award, selection by the International Academy of Science as one of the top 10 Technical Achievements of 2007, and receipt of a Popular Mechanics 2007 Breakthrough Award. Beyond the recognition of the broader team, several individual performers have been recognized for their specific efforts, including selection of team members at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago by Scientific American as one of the "SciAM 50 for 2007" for breakthrough work on novel medical procedures to enable improved prosthetic control as demonstrated via Proto 1.
"The award of Phase 2 funding lets the team continue this important work to integrate the promising technologies from Phase 1 into a viable, high dexterity limb system that will achieve DARPA's goal," says APL's Stuart D. Harshbarger, who leads the program. The team hopes to have the full arm system ready for regulatory clearance within two years.
The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.
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