Forget using a can opener. Who cares about Vader’s silly little Death Grip. Why settle with primitive tools when you can crush bones with a bionic hand?
After a long twenty-year developmental period, Touch Bionics has finally produced a mechanical hand with five individually working ProDigits, or fingers (meaning each digit has its own motor). The significance of this device is that previous artificial hands weren’t so versatile, nowhere near as anatomically correct, acting more like claws that simply opened and closed. However with Touch Bionics’ i-LIMB hand, patients can now experience a precision grip that will pick up small objects such as coins and credit cards using the index finger and thumb (or an additional middle finger if needed).
According to the company, the i-LIMB looks and acts like a real hand, and represent a generational advance in bionics and patient care. "The Touch Bionics i-LIMB Hand was developed using leading-edge mechanical engineering techniques and is manufactured using high-strength plastics," says the company. "The result is a next-generation prosthetic device that is lightweight, robust and highly appealing to both patients and healthcare professionals."
The remaining muscles of the patient’s arm actually activate the device. Electrodes planted on the skin pick on the myoelectric electrical signals generated by the muscles and activate the appropriate function, whether it’s turning a key or giving some punk the middle finger. Patients can even use the i-LIMB’s power grip feature to lift a briefcase, shopping bag, or a good stiff alcoholic beverage. Need to type a letter? Put that index to work, as it will allow patients to use the computer keyboard, ATM cash machines, telephone dial pads and other useful functions.
While the device may not resemble a human hand exactly, Touch Bionics seemed to take that extra step in giving patients the feeling of having a natural appendage once again. The entire device is covered with Cosmesis, a flexible layer that encases both the ProDigits and the i-LIMB hand chassis. Although the device is not waterproof, the Cosmosis protects the mechanical and electrical elements of the i-LIMB Hand and ProDigits from dust and moisture. Currently the company is working with other Cosmosis partners to develop more humanized "skins" such as LIVINGSKIN, a covering centered on a non-solvent-based silicone rubber compound that can be custom designed to match a patient’s exact skin-type.
In recognition of Touch Bionics’ accomplishments, TIME Magazine recognized the i-LIMB as one of its Top 50 inventions of 2008, ranking in the fourteenth position amongst other devices including the Large Hadron Collider and the world’s fastest supercomputer. “We are delighted to have been identified by TIME as one of the inventions of the year, a real honour for any innovative company,” said Touch Bionics CEO Stuart Mead. “To have been placed ahead of incredible stories like the Mars Rover, MIT’s MDS robot and Berkeley’s invisibility cloak is a tremendous achievement.”
Since the launch, more than 400 patients worldwide have been fitted with the i-LIMB device. Currently there are no reports on how the i-LIMB handled the stress of playing Gears of War 2, or if any Xbox 360 controllers were harmed in the process.