Dean Kamen previews an extraordinary new prosthetic arm, on

Inventor Dean Kamen gives a 5-minute talk about the extraordinary prosthetic arm he’s developing at the request of the US Department of Defense, to help the 1,600 “kids” who’ve come back from Iraq without an arm (and the two dozen who’ve lost both arms). Kamen’s commitment to using technology to solve problems, and his respect for the human spirit, have never been more clear than in this deeply moving clip. (Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, California. Duration: 05:41.)

Watch Dean Kamen’s talk on, where you can download it, rate it, comment on it and find other talks and performances, including Kamen’s 2002 talk on inventing and giving.

Read more about Dean Kamen on

NEW: Read the transcript >>

Dean Kamen: New prosthetic arm for veterans

I got a visit- just almost exactly a year ago, a little over a year ago- from a very senior person at the Department of Defense, came to see me and said: 1,600 of the kids that we’ve sent out have come back missing at least one full arm. (pause) Whole arm. Shoulder disartic. And we’re doing the same thing we did for more or less- that we’ve done since the Civil War, a stick and a hook. And they deserve more than that. And, literally, this guy sat in my office in New Hampshire and said I want you to give me something that we can put on these kids that’ll pick up a raisin or a grape off a table, they’ll be able to put it in their mouth, without destroying either one, and they’ll be able to know the difference without looking at it. You know, had efferent, afferent, and haptic response.

He finishes explaining that, and I’m waiting for the big 300 pound paper proposal, and he said- That’s what I want from you. I said- Look. You’re nuts. That technology’s just not available right now. And it can’t be done. Not in an envelope of a human arm, with 21 degrees of freedom, from your shoulder to your fingertips. He said about two dozen of these 1,600 kids have come back bilateral. You think it’s bad to lose one arm? That’s an inconvenience compared to having both of them gone. (pause) I got a day job, and my nights and weekends are already filled up with things like “let’s supply water to the world, and power to the world, and educate all the kids”- which, Chris, I will not talk about. I don’t need another mission.

I keep thinking about these kids with no arms. He says to me, we’ve done some work around the country, we’ve got some pretty amazing neurology and other people. I said I’ll take a field trip, I’ll go see what you’ve got. Over the next month I visited lots of places, some out here, around the country, found the best of the best. I went down to Washington, I saw these guys, and said I did what you asked me, I looked at what’s out there- I still think you’re nuts. But not as nuts as I thought.

I put a team together, a little over 13 months ago, got up to 20 some-odd people. We said we’re gonna build a device that does what he wants. We have 14 out of the 21 degrees of freedom- you don’t need the ones in the last two fingers. We put this thing together. A couple of weeks ago we took it down to Walter Reed, which is unfortunately more in the news these days, we showed it to a bunch of guys. One guy who described himself as being lucky, ’cause he lost his left arm, and he’s a rightie. He sat at a table with 7 or 8 of these other guys, said he was lucky, ’cause he had his good arm, and then he pushed himself back from the table, he had no legs. These kids have attitudes that you just can’t believe.

So I’m gonna show you now, without the skin on it, a 30 second piece, and then I’m done. But understand, what you’re looking at, we made small enough to fit on a 50th percentile female, so that we could put it in any of these people. It’s gonna go inside something that we use in CAT scans and MRIs of whatever is their good arm, to make a silicon rubber- then coated, and painted in 3D- exact mirror image of their other limb, so you won’t see all the really cool stuff that’s in this series elastic set of 14 actuators, each one which has its own capability to sense temperature pressure. It also has a pneumatic cuff that holds it on, so the more they put themselves under load, the more it attaches, they take the load off, and it becomes, again, compliant. I’m gonna show you a guy doing a couple of simple things with this that we demonstrated in Washington. Can we look at this thing?

(video: “Gen X- Separate Exo Control”)

(man wearing prosthesis takes bottle of water from woman’s hand with prosthetic, then drinks from bottle)

Watch the fingers grab. The thumb comes up, wrist – this weighs 6.9 pounds.

(man raises prosthetic arm to face, scratches nose)

Gonna scratch his nose. It’s got 14 active degrees of freedom, now he’s gonna pick up a pen with his opposed thumb and index finger.

(man uses prosthesis to take pen from woman’s hand)

Now he’s gonna put that down, pick up a piece of paper, rotate all, the degrees of freedom in his hand and wrist, and read it.

(man lifts paper with prosthesis, rotates it toward eyes, and reads it)

(video ends, applause)