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How technologies to help Veterans can help us all

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I recently saw Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway PT, talking about the new prosthetic arm for veterans developed by his Deka Research and Development Firm.
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Dean Kamen
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The Deka “Luke” Arm (named for Luke Skywalker’s mechanical hand, cut off by his father Lego Darth Vader) certainly has a noble background. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (a.k.a DARPA approached Kamen with a challenge to build a prosthetic arm that had the accuracy to pick a raisin off a table, the control to pick up a grape with out breaking it, and the ability to place both in the mouth of the user. Despite major advances in military weaponry over the last five decades, the prosthetic arm for wounded veterans had remained the same: a wooden (or plastic) stick with a hook. Amazingly, this arm would be connected to the nervous system of the user offering a futuristic life-like experience for the user. The potential impact of this technology on the health and wellness of amputees is clear. Imagine though, the impact that this technology could have for those of us fortunate enough to never experience an amputation. I was, however, disappointed that Kamen did not touch on the impact this technology could have on the health and wellness of those who are already healthy and well. Kamen appeared on the show with the Deka arm strapped to his shoulder with his normal human arm strapped to his side. What I would have wanted to see was the Deka arm strapped to his side beneath his human arm , leaving both fully functional. This is by no means meant to trivialize the very important work being done to improve the lives of our wounded veterans. This is incredibly important work that deserves praise and continued funding on its own merits. It is an attempt to do some legitimate speculating on how this “dual use” technology could improve the lives of all humans. The practical implications of this technology are certainly too numerous and unimaginable to try and capture them all here. That being said, I think one of the most obvious future applications of this kind of technology is the increase in human productivity and longevity. With Deka arms or similar technology perfected, the productivity of the average person would effectively double. Not only would you have twice the number of arms and hands, but half of them would not be subject to the effects of fatigue and aging. The impact on the lives of the elderly or people engaged in manual labor would be tremendous. Some of the more difficult to imagine improvements to life could be in the arts, consumer technology and sports. Imagine a keyboard designed for the human with four sets of hands and 20 fingers. Similarly, racket sports needless to say, would never be the same again.

Written by Andrew

April 10th, 2010 at 7:48 pm

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