High-technology is used extensively in military applications — we all know that. But it is also being used to improve the lives of veterans.
An example of this effort was shared by Dean Kamen, inventor and founder of DEKA Research and Development Corp., at a recent industry conference.
Kamen's company, DEKA, was asked by DARPA to develop a better prosthetic arm. In spite of the advancements made in robotics and rehabilitative technologies, prosthetic arms are largely non-functional and cosmetic, and those that are functional still use a hook as the primary grasping tool. Kamen wanted to develop a prosthetic that not only looked like an arm, but rotated, bent, and had the tactile capability of picking up a grape without breaking the skin. If you've ever seen any of the The Terminator movies, you've seen such an arm.
Men and women return from combat every day missing their limbs. Kamen and DEKA operated under the belief that it is not enough to replace arms and legs with a device that doesn't restore the kind of functionality soldiers had before being harmed in battle. The DEKA arm is incredible. It looks like a Terminator arm; it can be strapped on by a user and operated with very little training. It bends and flexes and has fingers that can pick up a dime. Kamen shared some video of a veteran using the arm for the first time. It is the most amazing thing I have seen outside of a science fiction movie.
Most importantly, the arm was developed first and foremost with the user in mind. Kamen's measurement of success: Using the arm, a combat veteran was able to feed himself for the first time in 12 years.
I'm not sure how these prosthetics are being funded or even if they are available. DEKA ran in to some regulatory issues with the FDA, but that's a story for another time. It's the effort that is inspiring: enabling individuals to do the things that we all take for granted (dressing ourselves, feeding ourselves, getting a drinking glass off of a shelf).
Giving back to people what they lost in service to our country should be the very least we can do. That's not easily accomplished, and I understand many of the reasons why. But as long as we continue to work toward that goal, we are honoring our veterans, in a small way, through innovation and invention. Let us know your thoughts on the message boards.