Dean Kamen’s Prosthetic Arm


60 minutes has covered [Dean Kamen]’s modular robotic arm.  This thing is light weight, adjustable for different body frame sizes, modular, and eventually thought controlled. The system is currently functioning quite well, as you can see in the video. Current testers are controlling it with buttons under their toes, but the thought control is in the later stages of development. Sounds like science fiction right? You can see a monkey using a thought controlled arm to feed itself grapes, though we don’t think it is [Dean]’s arm.

Another cool feature of this arm is the fact that it changes its grip on your body depending on how much weight you are lifting. Lift something heavy and it grips harder.  Though it has a lot of the same information, there is a little bit of different footage in [Dean]’s TED talk about the arm.

It seems to us, with microcontrollers becoming so cheap and accessible that we should be seeing more home made contraptions in this area. Are any of you working with prosthetics?

26 thoughts on “Dean Kamen’s Prosthetic Arm

  1. ‘…though we don’t think it is [Dean]’s arm.’ – Correct. That video is from the Schwartz lab at Pitt. It’s a great deal less complex than the Kamen arm/hand … but then again that monkey video is getting quite dated at this point.

  2. this is still nowhere near the usefulness of a real arm; it’s pretty slow, jerky, doesn’t have really good finger control (comparatively) and seems like people can only control one motor at a time on the arm demo’d in the TED talk.

    hobbyists aren’t going to be able to afford motors strong enough for any useful sort of prosthetic arm.

  3. I’ve seriously thought about building myself a robotic arm, just in case. My reasoning is it would be easier to build a robot arm using 2 hands than with one, so better to be prepared =P.

    /Hoping I would never have to actually use it…

  4. Maroc thats what i thought lol…..this is a big step i have freinds and FAMILY who have lost arms and legs this gives me hope for them and although i dnt always agree with the men in black in power i suport the troops they have no choice once they sighn on the dotted line and they believe they are fighting for our freedom i say thanks to all of them including my gramps who fought in WW2

  5. nave.notnilc said:
    hobbyists aren’t going to be able to afford motors strong enough for any useful sort of prosthetic arm.

    What about DIY pneumatic muscles? Like so:!/

    Those little buggers are quite strong and offer the added benefit of being somewhat flexible, thus assuming the form-factor of a human muscle more easily.

    One “downside” is that you need to power it with compressed air, either carrying around an air tank or a compressor (or both). Though, I shudder with glee at the delicious Steampunk madness that could arise from this!

    For control schemes available to a dedicated geek, there is EMG ( and acoustic myography (!-Part-1%3a-Electronic-Board/) both of which are quite doable with a bit of research.

    Add some basic Sensory Substitution ( to this and bake in some artistic skill and you could well have a prosthetic limb every bit as good as a commercial one (if not better), as well as the worlds most awesome conversation starter!

  6. Since I lost my arm, I’ve had a number of prosthetic arms… the ones I enjoy most were solid and mechanical. The electrical ones offer dexterity to a point (soldering is hard without one), but I love the ability to be able to jump and land on my mechanical, swim, and well, punch things without fearing damage. I’ve been working for quite a while on blueprints for an entirely mechanical arm with finger control, but alas, I am inexperienced, young, and busy.

  7. I interned for two summers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in the research lab, where the first bionic arm (robotic arm controlled by the nervous system) was developed by Todd Kuiken ( It was fitted on Jesse Sullivan’s left shoulder.
    The nerves going to the muscles in his arm were remapped to his left pectoral, to which the electronics of the arm are interfaced. An interesting side effect is that if you poke him in the chest, it feels like he is being poked in the arm.
    RIC is doing lots of very cutting edge work with prosthetics.

  8. heh. i was looking into making a hybrid “muscle” using muscle wire for the fine movements and compressed air for the larger ones… was for a variant of the RepRap.

    would work fairly well methinks.

    Interesting to note that high strength neodymium magnets exist in a flat plate configuration, so perhaps it might be possible to use this to make a magnetic “muscle” where a small movement causes the magnets to repel with a greater force. also in certain configurations 3-D movement may be possible.

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