Usually when we report on DARPA's robotic, brain-controlled prosthetic arm, we're reporting on news from the lab. Soon we'll be reporting from clinical trials. On Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration said it would fast-track the DARPA device, pushing it through the approval process with priority assistance in order to get it to amputees—many of which are returning from combat zones—as soon as four years from now.
There are really two headlines here; first, the DARPA arm is a modern marvel that's taken several years, $100 million, and some of the best minds in prosthetics design, robotics, and brain-machine interfaces to develop. It marks a technological leap—a prosthetic arm that is robotically controlled via a chip in the brain, making it more like a real limb than any approved prosthesis before it.
We expect the well-funded blue-sky thinkers at DARPA to identify a problem—in this case, the large numbers of American service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with limbs severed by IEDs—and quickly turn around a technological solution. We expect the exact opposite from the FDA. But long viewed as a place where innovation goes to die, the FDA is attempting to remake itself into a bureaucracy capable of moving innovative technologies from lab to market faster (that's the second headline).
In the FDA's defense, its job is not easy. Applicants bring the agency technologies and drugs never seen previously in the history of the world and ask scientists there to assess them for safety—a difficult job to say the least. The fast-track review—a new initiative that aims to bring technologies or drugs considered most important to market faster—will offer companies or agencies an FDA case manager to cut down on bureaucratic snafus and will give those products priority access to senior agency scientists in hopes of cutting the period of t review in half.
For DARPA's arm, that means four or five years rather than a decade spent in the FDA approval pipeline. Within six months DARPA will begin implanting chips in five patients' heads to begin clinical trials. Those patients will be monitored for a year to see if chip function degrades or if bodies reject the chips. If the trials are successful, that four or five year timeline for commercial availability is realistic.
Now if only DARPA could create a tool that cuts through red tape.
This is great news.
I hope this can be model for the FDA going forward on some of the life saving and changing technology that is coming out of the needs of war.
Roleplay as darth sidus. like a BOSS!
I believe much more innovation such as this should exist to serve the handicapped. They deserve it
anyone willing to help me after i chop off my arms to sign my name on the waiting list
Watch out...you may be end up like Wolovitz with the robotic arm :D
Good news, this tech should be available as soon as possible...
Just a little aside. The FDA has been a chronically underfunded whipping boy for our wonderful congress for as long as I can remember. (And I was in industry, not government).
Congress bleats and beats the FDA for speed, and then condemns them whenever there's a recall after something has been in the market.
That's bad enough, but they ramp up the criticism just before election time, and sometimes the FDA reshuffles some things to speed approvals up on a temporary basis.
Guess what happens when the FDA comes around after elections looking for funding to make the improvements permanent.
Just thought that I'd mention who's really to blame.
don't fight 'em, join 'em, cyborg revolution here we come!
If the only thing about this arm that needs FDA approval is the brain implant, MAKE THE ARM USABLE without the implant! Make it so that it can be used with, or without the implant, and get it into production!
And get to work on legs too! I need a leg, and as great as the arm is, a leg would serve me better... that black chick from Aeon Flux notwithstanding...
This is just like Luke Skywalker's hand at the end of Empire Strikes Back! As a veteran, I want to seriously congratulate the efforts of all involved to streamline this prosthetic so that injured troops coming home that can benefit from this device may do so in a more timely manner. It was difficult for me and I came home unscathed, I can only imagine trying to cope with civilian life with such a major disadvantage. Great Job DARPA and the FDA!
@shutterpod I saw robotic legs on the news the other day. I think this is what I saw: www.articles.sfgate.com/2011-01-26/business/27049680_1_health-care-robotic-legs-kaiser
Hopefully this helps.
the perfect prosthetic arm would be one works EXACTLY as the arm it replaces. powered by the body, using the nerves to receive commands.
I wonder if there will ever be an option to have extra arms? You know, like Doctor Octopus or General Grievous. That'd be sweet.
So much for the Six Million Dollar Man. Try 600 Million.