February 4, 2013

Small Step For Bionic Hands

What would it be like to have a prosthetic hand? To look down and know that you can only sort of move your hand the way it used to? To know that your prosthetic hand cannot feel your lover’s touch? To know that part of you is not human in the same way as it once was? For many, this scenario seems devastating. To live without a human limb means limited movement and looking different. Well, for those who currently have this experience, good news is on the horizon.

CNN reporter George Webster wrote an article about a newer, better bionic hand called the i-limb ultra. The new i-limb was created by David Gow, formerly the founder of Touch Bionics. The i-limb has innovative new technology that uses individually powered prosthetic digits, which means that each finger digit can move at the joints, can rotate, and can be powered to move separately. For one who needs a prosthetic, the i-limb can help simulate what it is replacing: a human hand.

Thus, if each finger and each joint can move individually, then the prosthesis will move more like a human hand. For individuals who have had to suffer through the awkward, claw-like movements of previous prosthetic hands, they will be able to make movements that they had long thought forgotten.

[ Related Video: New Bionic Hand Has Opposable Thumb ]

Beyond the movements themselves, the i-limb looks more like a real hand. No, Touch Bionics has not simulated the way skin feels (at least not yet), but it has created a prosthetic that does look like a human hand. It moves like one and looks like one. The video embedded with the CNN article shows both the movements and the look. The i-limb ultra is scary realistic in its movements.

The downside to the i-limb: cost. As of now, the i-limb hand, fitting, and training costs about $100,000 (USD). A quick search on Google shows that current prosthetic hands cost anywhere from $3,000 (USD) to $30,000 (USD). A jump to $100,000 (USD) is quite a leap.

Yet, for someone who needs it, isn’t the cost worth it? Webster spoke with Donald McKillop, who lost his right arm 35 years ago. McKillop was one of the first to use the initial version of the i-limb back in 2007. McKillop said, “Every day I’m finding new things with it — it’s absolutely amazing … It’s the hand I thought I’d never have again.” That is inspiration enough for me.

For amputees in need of a prosthetic hand, inventions like the i-limb can be life changing. Where once they had a machine as an arm, they might be able to once again have something more hand-like than not. Sure, it is still a machine, but it is a machine that moves and looks like a human hand. In only a matter of time, people will invent a covering that looks like skin, feels like skin, and maybe even can help the user have touch sensations again.

It is important to note that not all amputees feel like human-like movement and look are important. Some feel that they are who they are and that is just perfect. That is great. But some amputees want to look and move like they once did; for the latter, the i-limb can help.

Science is amazing. Without it, inventions like the i-limb would only be found in sci-fi stories. Or maybe it is because of sci-fi stories that science is able to invent such wonderful devices. Creativity and science marry to help make the world better. The i-limb is just another example of that.

Image Credit: Touch Bionics

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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