The world’s first commercially available bionic hand has more ergonomic qualities than fingers, one of several reasons it won 14th place on Time Magazine‘s list of Top 50 innovations of 2008.
The i-LIMB Hand, developed by Scottish company Touch Bionics, was named alongside the Super Hadron Collider on the published list. It was ranked ahead of the latest Mars Rover.
Twenty year under development, it has five individually-powered fingers. Myoelectric (muscle signal) controls use electrical signals generated by the muscles in the remaining portion of a patient’s limb to open and close its fingers. The signals are picked up by electrodes on the surface of the skin.
It wins ergonomics points as technology that expands human abilities or reduces the impact of a handicap. Enabling an amputee the ability to function more normally in day-to-day life, the i-LIMB Hand scores on both these points. It is more versatile that other robotic hands, which are generally hook-like and limited to simple pincer movements. The five-finger breakthrough makes it capable of different grips to match a variety of tasks. For the key grip, the thumb bends to the side of the index finger and allows the user to hold onto thin items such as papers and business cards. All fingers and the thumb come together for the power grip, creating a full-wrap to grasp glasses, briefcases or other objects. For the precision grip, the index finger and thumb meet to pick up small objects, and can hold them when performing finer control tasks. The thumb and fingers close for the index point but the index finger remains extended—enabling the user to dial a phone or get cash from an ATM.
Ergonomics is also apparent in the thought the developers have given to convenience. The I-LIMB is built to be modular—if one of its digits is damaged it can be swapped for another. Other types of prosthetic hand have to be removed entirely if they break, meaning amputees are sometimes left for weeks without a hand while they wait for a repair.
Covered in skin-like fabric, the i-LIMB Hand also looks like a real human hand. Together, the function and form represent a generational advance in bionics and patient care.
Sources: TouchBionics; Time Magazine