July 19, 2007—A new hope has arrived for amputees that would make Luke Skywalker feel right at home: a highly advanced bionic hand controlled by a patient's mind and muscles.
The newly released iLimb is the first prosthetic hand to have fully functional motorized digits that move and bend independently, its makers say. Electrodes taped to the skin transmit signals to tiny motors that power the fingers.
Previous artificial hands had only a thumb and forefinger that worked in a clawlike grasping action. But the new device allows amputees to carry out more delicate movements such as peeling a banana, typing on a computer, or eating with a knife and fork.
The iLimb is also covered by a semitransparent "cosmesis" that is computer modeled to look like human skin.
The hand, manufactured by Touch Bionics of Scotland, went on sale Tuesday in Britain for £8,500 (U.S. $17,454).
Fourteen amputees, including Iraq war veterans, were fitted with the robotic hand during an extensive trial period. One of these patients, Donald McKillop, 61, lost his right hand in an industrial accident nearly 30 years ago.
"They tell you to try and think as if you have two hands," McKillop told the Telegraph newspaper.
"It is a real learning curve, and every day it gets easier. I was amazed how much I could do within the first hour of trying it."
—Cori Sue Morris
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