Revolutionary new prosthetic hand

December 11, 2008 8:40:43 PM PST
When Erminio Bugliana of Exton, Pa. was a young, he loved motorcycles. But when a fireworks accident took his left hand, and mangled his right, life changed.He said, "Sitting there in the hospital, and you think to yourself 'what's left for me?"

But Erminio's made the best of life since, even becoming a painter. Still, the prosthetic hands he had over the years, he said just didn't feel natural. He always had faith something better would come along.

"I've always practiced opening and closing my hand (in my mind,)" he said

The hand is a case of life imitating art. When the iLimb's skin-like covering is on, it looks a lot like the bionic hand Luke Skywalker received in the 'Star Wars' series. Without the covering, it's more like something from 'The Terminator.' Either way, it acts like a real hand, working with Erminio's remaining limb.

Jared Howell of Ability Prosthetic said the iLimb picks up nerve impulses from Erminio's muscles, and using tiny motors and battery power, turns them into finger and wrist action, just like a natural hand.

"By having a motor in every digit, each digit moves independently. We've never had that possibility before," Howell said.

Feedback sensors control the pressure of Erminio's grip, so he can pick up a styrofoam cup without crushing it. Erminio is still working on mastering skills, such as picking up food and handling a credit card, but said he is getting the hang of it. "It becomes your friend quickly," he said.

But the iLimb hand is expensive, about $18,000. Still, the price should come down as the demand grows driven by the thousands of troops injured in Iraq & Afghanistan.

For Erminio, the new hand might even mean getting back to motorcycles.

"I could sit here all day doing this," he said while gripping the handlebars of a Harlet Davidson.

Touch Bionics


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