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Researchers Pursue Truly Functional Prosthetic Arm

Throughout military history, advances in technology — from internal combustion engines to airplanes to robotics — have changed war strategy and affected war outcomes. In Iraq and Afghanistan, advances in body armor and battlefield medical treatment mean more soldiers are surviving their wounds.

But more of those survivors are amputees, which has highlighted a somewhat lagging technology: prosthetic limbs, especially arms.

Historically, artificial legs have advanced more rapidly, in part because there is a bigger commercial market for legs. But also, the complexity of the human arm makes it an incredible design challenge.


Now, an international team of engineers and scientists is hoping to revolutionize prosthetic-arm technology. The ultimate goal is to build a strong, lightweight arm activated by neural impulses, which means it is controlled by an amputee's thoughts.

Funded by the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, the project — with a price tag of about $30 million — is a collaborative effort between more than 30 labs, universities and private companies.

Rebecca Roberts visits the project's hub at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., to learn more about the latest developments in prosthetic-arm technology, which are allowing unprecedented levels of control, sensory feedback and range of motion.

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