The Most Incredible Bionic Hand You’ve Ever Seen
Whether you like it or not, humans are going to start getting modified and improved in much the same way you upgrade the components of your car. When it comes to brain modifications, some say that those who choose not to participate will become so leapfrogged in intelligence that they will be considered in much the same way we look at pets. In a few decades, all the books that have ever been created thus far will be largely of no interest to those with modified intelligence. Even MBAs will be at risk. That is of course, until someone creates malware that creeps into the brain modification chips and turns everybody into Ted Bundy and society self destructs.
While these are the sorts of things we spend our time thinking about, society is still a long way away from brain mods. What we do want to share with you that’s readily available is one of the coolest things we’ve seen in a while – an actual bionic hand. The technology was so impressive that it led someone to say that it was only a matter of time before we actually chose to have our limbs amputated in favor of the far more functional mechanical ones. Now that’s something creepy to think about.
A Bionic Hand that Can Feel
Now we say this with some admitted bias, but it’s slim pickings when it comes to finding insightful content on all the political-commentary cum technology news sites these days. This is why we were delighted to discover an amazing video on YouTube by Motherboard (a Vice Media channel) called “The Mind-Controlled Bionic Arm With a Sense of Touch“. If you have 11 minutes, just watch the video, otherwise we’ll summarize it quickly for you.
The video starts out showing us the most complex robotic arm in existence today and it’s controlled by thoughts from the user’s brain. Located in Maryland is the “Applied Physics Laboratory”, a branch of The John Hopkins University that’s been taking funding from DARPA since 2005. A lady called Melissa Loomis is the focus of the story. She has lost her arm after intervening when a raccoon attacked her dogs (yes, those things are crazy) and bit her forearm. The poor lady developed an infection as a result, lost her arm from the elbow down, and just wanted to go back to living a normal life. Here’s what they did.
First, she underwent a rare type of surgery called targeted muscle reinnervation which would allow her to control a bionic hand with her mind but more than that, restore her sense of touch using the over 100 sensors found on the bionic hand. The surgeon took the nerves used to feel things and actually moved them externally such that she can wear an arm band that can send instructions to move the hand and also feel when the hand is touched. Here she is controlling the hand with her mind:
The arm learns from you as opposed to you learning how to control the arm. Melissa was the first person in the country to have experienced this amazing bionic hand, but that was close to a year ago. We can only imagine they’re taking bigger and bigger strides towards commercialization. Using “brain computer interface” (BCI) technology we talked about before like that from Synchron means that before long you won’t even need to get invasive surgery to make this thing work.
The first question people will have is how much does this thing cost? In the video, it’s mentioned as understandably costing 100s of thousands of dollars. What we will do next is introduce you to a few companies where you can get an amazing bionic hand, just with less functionality – for now that is.
3 Bionic Hand Companies
First unveiled in September of 2012, Bebionic is said to be the world’s most advanced prosthetic hand and was developed by a British medical technology company called Steeper. Just this past February, Bebionic was acquired by a large German prosthetics company called Otto Bock which has over 7,300 employees worldwide. The Bebionic hand provides 14 different grip patterns, which increases versatility for amputees and better assists them in daily activities. The prosthetic hands are available in three sizes, and include four wrist options based on individual needs. A user operates the bionic hand prosthesis using controlled muscle contraction. Electronics measure electrical changes on the skin covering the control muscles and command individual actuators in the hand to provide the desired movements:
The arm is now available in the U.S. and Canada. If you want to read the user’s guide which contains more information about the various grips, click here. Lastly, retail investors should note that Ottobock has said they intend to IPO this year so this would be an interesting play on the “bionic human” theme.
Founded in 2003 as a spin out of the NHS in Scotland, Scottish startup Touch Bionics had taken in $3.88 million in funding before they were acquired by an Icelandic firm called Ossur (CPH:OSSR) for around $35.5 million in April of 2016. According to an article by the BBC at the time, in 2015 they saw sales of $19.33 million with the strongest growth coming from the German and French markets. By the end of 2015, over 5,000 patients had been fitted with Touch Bionics i-limb and i-digits products. Here’s a pretty interesting 2-minute video on someone packing a suitcase using the i-limb:
Up to 24 different grips can be selected using a smartphone or even “grip chips” that can be placed in locations where you need a particular grip (like on your laptop for example). An additional 12 custom “my grips” may also be programmed offering the user up to 36 different grips. Like we saw with the previous bionic hand, this one can also be controlled through myoelectric signals, meaning it uses muscle signals in the patient’s residual limb to move the device.
Does anyone remember the iconic scene in Star Wars where Luke just lost his arm fighting Darth Vader and then Darth Vader says “Luke, I am your father”? Well it turns out that he actually never said that but instead said “No, I am your father“, a discrepancy which some people are blaming on the Mandela Effect. Pretty crazy stuff, but anyways, this next bionic hand is aptly named the “Luke Arm” as a shout out to the nice fancy bionic hand that Luke was fitted with after losing his arm. The New Hampshire company behind this arm is called Mobius Bionics and they were also funded by DARPA with military veterans in mind. Just 3 days ago, Mobius Bionics provided their revolutionary LUKE prosthetic arm to the first two veteran recipients. In its maximum configuration, it has 10 powered degrees of freedom and comes in a variety of different options as seen below:
It’s the first FDA approved bionic arm and can be controlled by a variety of different methods which even include sensors placed within your shoes. Mobius Bionics is now manufacturing and distributing the LUKE arm for the military, veteran and civilian markets.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of all the bionic hands on offer out there. We wanted to stick with companies that have a readily available product which is advanced as possible so that if you are someone who actually needs something like this and you get all excited reading about it, you know who you can turn to in order to get one. We’ve also reached out to each of these 3 companies asking for a general price range which we’ll update the article with should they provide such information. Based on the incredible research that’s being done, it shouldn’t be too long now before you’ll actually have a bionic limb replacement that is as good or even better than the ones most of us take for granted each and every day.
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