The force is with U

When Utahns see the new “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in theaters during the next two weeks, they’ll get a glimpse of real-life technology at the University of Utah that seems fitting for a galaxy far far away.

The LUKE Arm, a motorized prosthetic arm for amputees that is being co-developed by biomedical engineers in the University of Utah’s College of Engineering, is the star of a new university-produced commercial that is running in Larry Miller-owned Megaplex Theatres showing “The Rise of Skywalker.” The commercial, which was created by University Marketing & Communications (UMC) team, will run before the previews begin for each screening of the movie during the first two weeks it is playing. Here are the Utah theaters the ad will be shown, which runs until Jan. 2, 2020. Click below to see the commercial.

  • Cottonwood (Holladay)
  • The Gateway (Salt Lake City)
  • Geneva (Vineyard)
  • The Junction (Ogden)
  • Legacy Crossing (Centerville)
  • Thanksgiving Point (Lehi)
  • Valley Fair (West Valley)
  • Jordan Commons (Sandy)
  • The District (South Jordan)

The LUKE Arm is being co-developed by U biomedical engineering associate professor Gregory Clark and his team. Clark and doctoral student Jacob George star in the commercial in which they demonstrate the arm’s amazing technology. The researchers have developed a way for the “LUKE Arm” (so named after the robotic hand that Luke Skywalker got in “The Empire Strikes Back”) to mimic the way a human hand feels objects by sending the appropriate signals to the brain. The fingers in the hand can also pick up objects with just the user’s thoughts. Their findings were published in a new paper co-authored by George, former doctoral student David Kluger, Clark and other colleagues, in the latest edition of the journal Science Robotics. The University of Utah Magazine featured the research in its current issue.

The U’s marketing team couldn’t resist the serendipitous timing of the Star Wars movie opening just months after the LUKE Arm research published.

“We were in a meeting and the ‘Star Wars’ movie came up,” said Collin Barrett, UMC account executive who first had the idea. “We brainstormed the script and storyboarded the concept, but pulling it off was a collaboration between us, nursing where we filmed, engineering and Clark’s lab. Those weren’t actors—that’s the professor and the grad students!”

When they heard the idea, Clark and the lab were thrilled.

“They were like kids in a candy store. They immediately started thinking about how they could make the storyboards a reality,” said Jeff Bagley, creative director at UMC who led the effort.

Off-camera, graduate students involved in the research wrote code in real-time to mimic what the prosthetic arm can do, including handling the delicate egg. No eggs were crushed in the making of this commercial.

The team packed the scenes with Easter eggs that pay homage to “The Empire Strikes Back:” the opening is a frame-by-frame match of the scene where Luke Skywalker tries out his prosthetic for the first time. George donned a resistance fleet uniform. The typeface is similar to the infamous Star Wars scroll. The narrator says the technology gives “A New Hope” to amputees.

And, of course, there’s the lightsaber.

“We told them, you play with it, and you duck. We had to shoot it few times to get it right,” said Bagley laughing. “It was really fun.”