DARPA

Around Government

High-tech arm for injured vets, green jobs and USPS cash for clunkers.

The Midas Touch

High-tech arm helps veteran amputees regain fine motor skills.

New technology reminiscent of the robotics in the iconic Star Wars movies is coming to life through the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Since 2006, DARPA has conducted research at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to develop products that link severed nerves with prosthetic limbs, allowing greater mobility for service members who’ve lost a hand or arm to combat injuries.  

One of these inventions is the DEKA Arm, an $18.4 million project of DEKA Research and Development Corp. in New Hampshire, which develops devices for people with disabilities. The DEKA Arm was featured in a recent New York Times profile of Cpl. Sebastian Gallegos, an Army veteran who lost his arm in an explosion in Afghanistan. Using the device, which can simulate the functionality of a human hand, Gallego was able to make rudimentary movements.

DEKA has filed a request with the Food and Drug Administration to make the arm commercially available. But even after the technology hits the market, a major obstacle will be price. According to a study from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, neuroprosthetic arms cost nearly $150,000 apiece, and many insurance providers cap coverage at one-tenth that amount. Other prosthetics can be purchased at a fraction of the cost, but they don’t offer the same sophisticated features. 

The price tag is expected to come down as the product is mass produced and the technology advances. And when that happens, the hope is it will significantly improve daily tasks for thousands of veterans affected by debilitating injuries. 

- Kedar Pavgi

What Color Is Your Job?

Even though most green jobs are in the private sector, it might make sense to call government a deeper shade of green because a higher percentage of public sector jobs are environmentally friendly,  according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute. The study used a Bureau of Labor Statistics definition of green that accounts for how specific jobs affect the environment based on what they do and how they do it.EPI found that federal jobs are greenest of all compared to state and local government and the private sector.        

-Rebecca Carroll

Fantasy Island

There are lots of ideas for how to deal with the nation’s problems, but Robert Allen Hamlett offers a unique perspective. For example, the former FBI prosecutor suggests putting felons with a “serious criminal history” on an island, left to their own devices. 

“The island is a very low cost to the hardworking American taxpayers who choose to obey the laws,” he writes in his book Wake Up America (AuthorHouse, 2012). Hamlett calls on Americans to demand such changes. 

“Eventually the bubble’s gonna burst,” he says. “I’d like to see my grandkids owning their own home, having a job, working toward a retirement.”

To Hamlett, it all comes down to spending more wisely.

“Everyone’s proud that we were the first to the moon, but what did we get, a trophy?” he asks. “We certainly didn’t cure cancer.” 

-Eric Katz

Cash for Clunkers

The Postal Service hopes perks for recycling electronics will draw more paying customers.

Facing declining revenues and record deficits, the U.S. Postal Service is turning to innovative ideas for getting back in the black. 

One such idea is the Recycle Through USPS program, which allows customers to dispose of their old cellphones, iPods and other electronics in exchange for cash. After receiving a quote online, participants can mail their used devices to MaxBack, an electronics buyback program, which will cover the cost of shipping.  

The Postal Service recently redoubled its efforts on the initiative, creating envelopes for the exchanges in partnership with MaxBack, displaying promotional materials at more post offices and revamping the program’s Web presence on USPS.com to attract customers. 

The program, USPS officials say, combines the agency’s commitment to social responsibility with its desire to get back to fiscal solvency.   

“What we’re looking at . . . is recovering these devices to maximize their value and limit any potential harm to the environment,” says Dan Barrett, the Postal Service’s manager of new business opportunities. “And also we’re looking at it as a way to increase shipping revenues. We’re doing what we do best, and that is deliver packages.”  

Barrett calls the recycling program a launching pad for other retail partnerships and says the Postal Service could expand the concept to other promotions, such as charity donations and leftover prescription drug returns. 

The Postal Service is cutting its infrastructure, buying out employees and implementing programs like Recycle Through USPS as it awaits congressional action on a comprehensive overhaul of the agency. USPS is losing $25 million per day, according to
agency estimates.

-   Eric Katz

Clarification: This story was updated to reflect shipping costs are subsidized by the U.S. Postal Service's corporate partner MaxBack.

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