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An Open-Source Approach To Better Prosthetics

Before Jonathan Kuniholm had a tour of duty in Iraq, he worked for Tackle Design, an industrial design, research and development firm. After that tour, he was missing part of his right arm — which he lost when his Marine patrol was ambushed near Haditha.

When Kuniholm returned to his design shop, he brought along three prosthetic arms given to him at Walter Reed Medical Center — the same body-operated hook many veterans have used since World War I, a shorter utility prosthetic, and a new, state-of-the-art myoelectric arm. Each one had its drawbacks — and when Kuniholm and his Tackle Design colleagues disassembled them, they quickly concluded that they could improve on the designs. They founded the Open Prosthetics Project, an open-source collaboration that makes its innovations available to anyone. And Kuniholm signed on with Revolutionizing Prosthetics, an initiative of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Kuniholm's story — including the details of his injury and how his experience in Iraq has shaped both his work and views of the war — is featured in Michael Belfiore's new book, The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs. He joins Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies for a conversation about the Open Prosthetics Project and its goals.

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