New future at fingertips for amputees

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New future at fingertips for amputees

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British engineers are launching a bionic hand they claim is as sophisticated as many prototypes, but cheap enough to meet the needs of a mass market.

The new owners are familiarising themselves with the devices and are managing to perform quite difficult tasks like lacing up shoes. Individual motors in each finger allow the amputee to move the hand and grip in a more natural, coordinated way.

The hands are built in Leeds at RSL Steeper, a company which specialises in prosthetics.

“The design intent really is to go for as close to the human form as possible. The hands that kind of exist on the market at the minute are single articulation, so just a standard grip, whereas this hand is multi-articulated, it can grab hold of a wine glass as easily as it could grab a grapefruit, or something like that,” said Operations Director Ted Varley.

There are two small sensors on the amputee’s arm, using signals from muscles there to open, close and grip, giving the hand a remarkably “natural” feel.

Microprocessors continuously monitor the position of each finger, giving the amputee a precise control over hand movements. Options mean even small objects are less of a challenge.

“We have a second set of grips for more specialist jobs such as like a trigger grip for sort of a spray bottle, or something like that, a mouse grip so people can actually hold the mouse and do a click of the button,” explains Varley.

RSL Steeper’s own market research claims there are 130,000 amputees in Western populations; about five per cent of these involve hands and arms. It is the state of the art, but in such a tight market it is hard to predict the future of this device.

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