Revolutionizing Prosthetics


Begun in 2006, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Revolutionizing Prosthetics program set out to expand prosthetic arm options for today’s wounded warriors. The program funded two teams to create advanced anthropomorphic mechanical arms and control systems: DEKA Research and Development Corporation to get an arm control system to market quickly, and the other—with APL as the system integrator and lead—to produce a fully neurally integrated upper-extremity prosthesis with appropriate documentation for clinical trials and manufacturing transition. APL is creating a modular architecture and extensible platform that provides a framework for future developments by us or others.

A prosthesis requires the following characteristics in order to reflect the properties of a biological limb:

  • sensors for touch, temperature, vibration, and proprioception (the ability to sense the position of the arm and hand relative to other parts of the body)
  • power that will allow extended use
  • mechanical components that will provide strength and environmental tolerance (to heat, cold, water, humidity, dust, etc.)

With this new prosthetic, an upper-extremity amputee would be able to feel and manipulate objects just like a person with a native hand.



Program Background

DARPA has contracted more than $107 million for the APL-led Revolutionizing Prosthetics program to create a fully functional upper limb that responds to direct neural control. The groundbreaking work done under this program capitalized on previous DARPA investments in neuroscience, robotics, sensors, power systems, and actuation. In particular, this program builds on DARPA’s Human Assisted Neural Devices program, which recently decoded the brain’s motor signals with such fidelity that movements of a robotic arm can be controlled entirely by direct brain control.

The following items illustrate DARPA’s rationale, goals, and commitment to Revolutionizing Prosthetics and associated programs.

Revolutionizing Prosthetics Staff
Revolutionizing Prosthetics Staff

The Revolutionizing Prosthetics team brings together the most respected scientific researchers in their fields, as well as commercial leaders from the prosthetics industry. Often referred to as the “Manhattan Project” for prosthetics, the project is shaped by a multidisciplinary team that includes experts in signal processing and pattern recognition, electrodes for brain implants, mechatronics, neuroscience, electrical engineering, cognitive science, signal processing, battery design, nanotechnology, and even behavioral science.

The Revolutionizing Prosthetics program has been privileged to be associated with many partners since its inception. Below is a listing of current, previous, and advisory partners.