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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

'Star Wars' robotic arm leads the way in prosthetics technology

Posted: 13 May 2014 01:25 AM PDT

A robotic arm for amputees named after Star Wars character Luke Skywalker is more lifelike and able to perform complex manoeuvres – a huge advance over the more common metal hook.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the sale of the DEKA Arm System after reviewing data, including a US Department of Veterans Affairs study in which 90% of people who used the device were able to perform complex tasks. These included using keys and locks, feeding themselves, using zippers and brushing and combing hair.

The prosthetic arm was developed by New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp, founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and other devices.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said it provided more than US$40mil (RM130mil) in funding to DEKA to develop the robotic arm as part of a US$100mil project to improve prosthetics.

"It was designed to produce near-natural upper extremity control to injured people who have suffered amputations. This arm system has the same size, weight, shape and grip strength as an adult's arm would be able to produce," Justin Sanchez, a programme manager in DARPA's biological technologies office, said in a telephone interview.

Complex manoeuvres: The DEKA Arm System is capable of executing complicated movements such as picking up and handling small or delicate objects, as can be seen in the photos above and below. Its developers dubbed it 'Luke', after Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars trilogy. In the second movie of the trilogy, Skywalker lost his hand in a duel and it was replaced with a robotic prosthesis. 

The FDA said the device is the first prosthetic arm that can carry out multiple, simultaneous movements controlled by signals from electromyogram electrodes that detect electrical activity caused as a person contracts muscles.

The electrodes send signals to a computer processor in the arm, which can then make up to 10 specific movements using a combination of switches and sensors.

"The DEKA Arm System may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm," Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement.

The Pentagon's involvement came about because of the type of injuries sustained by US troops in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The Pentagon said more than 1,800 US service members underwent major limb amputations as a result of injuries sustained in those wars.

"This prosthetic limb system can pick up objects as delicate as a grape, as well be able to handle very rugged tools like a hand drill," Sanchez said.

Until now, the best technology available to troops and others who lost an arm was a metal hook, Sanchez said. "The metal hook was the most commonly used prosthetic device for the last hundred years."

DEKA said on its website that the arm is dubbed "Luke" after Luke Skywalker, the character whose hand is sliced off in a duel and is replaced with a robotic version in the 1980 film Empire Strikes Back.

The FDA said the robotic arm could be used by people with limb loss occurring at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm or mid-lower arm, but not at the elbow or wrist joint. In the Veterans Affairs study, 36 people provided data on how the arm performed in common household and self-care tasks. – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Health, Lifestyle, Health, Alternatives, prosthetics, prosthesis, innovation, robotic arm, DEKA arm system, limb loss, design, approved, Luke Skywalker, Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back

Get up and move: For older people, it'll slow down ageing

Posted: 12 May 2014 06:55 PM PDT

Physical activity shown to be even more important later in life.

It's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise. That's the overarching conclusion from two separate studies that looked at the impact of physical activity in groups of men and women over the age of 30.

In fact, one study out of Australia found that an inactive, sedentary lifestyle was the single most important contributing factor to heart disease in women between the ages of 30 and 90 – more than bearing excess weight, high blood pressure or smoking, the other three global risk factors for developing the leading cause of death in high income countries.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study looked at different risk factors in 32,154 women from Australia.

After factoring in the prevalence of smoking, inactivity, excess weight and high blood pressure and looking at relative risk data – the likelihood of a woman with risk factors developing heart disease – researchers concluded that from age 30 onwards, low levels of physical activity were responsible for higher levels of population risk than any other factors.

For women younger than 30, the most dangerous risk factor was smoking.

The moral of the study? If all women over the age of 30 were able to able to fulfil their recommended weekly exercise quota of 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity, the lives of 2,000 women could be saved every year in Australia, researchers say.

A smaller, separate study out of France came to a similar conclusion after looking at 40 healthy men between the ages of 55 and 70.

For the study, researchers compared the heart health of men who said they began leading active lifestyles before the age of 30 to those who said they'd taken up sports after 40. The most popular activities were cycling and running.

Overall, after conducting a series of tests that included maximal exercise testing, echocardiography tests and heart rate analyses, researchers found no difference between men who began exercising early in their adult lives and those who started later.

Results were presented at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam over the weekend.

While researchers say that physical activity may not be able to reverse age-related damage to the cardiovascular system, they note that it can play a significant role in slowing the process down.

"But it's never too late to change your way of life and get more physically active," said lead author David Matelot.

"This will always be beneficial for the heart and well-being. And there's no need for a high level of training for many hours a week. Using the stairs rather than the elevator, or gardening regularly, can also be beneficial." – AFP Relaxnews

Here's a taste of exercises that can be done while sitting in a chair.


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