Jul 04, 2008
World’s first bionic hand introduced to South AfricaBack
© Reuse this Icelandic prosthetic company Icexpress Progressive Prosthetics, which is also based in South Africa, has introduced the world’s first bionic hand, called ‘i-limb’, to the country. The bionic hand was developed by UK-based company Touch Bionics.
“One can perform almost any function with the bionic hand that can be performed by a normal hand. “The fingers are signal dependent, meaning that, when a firm hard signal is given, the hand will close almost immediately, and when a soft signal is given, it will close slowly,” he says.
The bionic hand was developed using leading-edge mechanical engineering techniques, and is manufactured from high-strength plastics. It is controlled through a highly intuitive control system that uses a traditional two- input myoelectric signal to open and close the hand’s fingers.
Myoelectric controls use the electrical signal generated by the muscles in the remaining portion of the patient’s limb. Electrodes on the surface of the skin pick up this signal. Existing users of basic myoelectric prosthetic hands are able to adapt to the new system quickly and can master the device’s new functionality within minutes.
The bionic hand’s thumb can, like a human thumb, be rotated into different positions to enable important grip configurations, many of which have not been available to amputees before. The grasp of the hand is akin to a human hand’s, with the articulating fingers able to close tightly around objects. Built-in detection tells each individual finger when it has sufficient grip on an object and, therefore, when to stop powering. Individual fingers lock into position until the patient triggers an open signal through a simple muscle flex.
While previous myoelectric hands could only be opened and closed, the bionic hand offers numerous grip patterns that enhance dexterity and support almost all daily living activities. For example, patients are now able to point the index finger to operate a keyboard, or to rotate the thumb in order to meet the side of the index finger to hold a plate or turn a key in a lock. None of these functions were possible before.
Snyders says that the muscles that control movement, called flexors and extensors, are still in place after an amputation takes place. He notes that this allows an electrode to be placed on the skin at the position where the maximum impulse originates in the muscle. When an amputee tries to contract that muscle group, an impulse from the electrode will be sent to a power source where it will be enhanced, allowing the user to open and close the hand as well as rotate the wrist, he says.
The bionic hand has an internal micropro-cessor and, with four fully powered fingers and an articulating thumb, users are given the ability to bend, touch and pick up and point, mimicking the movement of a natural hand. Each finger has an individually powered motor located within each digit. Each finger is built to include a gearbox that allows the user to close the hand and as soon as the fingers experience resistance, the gearbox will disengage, allowing the finger to stall in the appropriate position.
Normally, says Snyders, this sort of technology would bypass Africa.
“Icexpress is currently one of a few specialised prosthetic providers in Africa focusing on socket design and amputee rehabilitation. “Our vision is to allow users in Africa to have similar benefits as the rest of the world,” he says.
Snyders admits that the bionic hand is expensive, but adds that as technology becomes more advanced, it will gradually become cheaper. He believes that the breakthrough in the development of the hand could lead to other technological breakthroughs, such as arti- ficial muscles and nerve transplants that will enhance quality of life for amputees in Africa.
The bionic arm had a limited launch in July last year in Vancouver, Canada, and there are now 300 units across the globe.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Science and Technology News
The Competition Commission has appointed Bukhosibakhe Majenge legal services divisional manager, effective April 1. The commission advised on Tuesday that Majenge would take over from Wendy Ndlovu, appointed manager in the office of the Commissioner. Majenge had...
Aim-listed energy provider Ncondezi Energy has been granted an extension for meeting certain conditions relating to the conditional commercial deal signed between it and Electricidade de Moçambique (EdM) for its 300 MW power plant. Ncondezi was establishing an...
Recent Research Reports
This Week's Magazine
Projected capital expenditure (capex) in the South African automotive assembly industry should reach a record R7.48-billion this year, says the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) in its 2014 fourth quarter business review. Capex...
After several years of navigating project-threatening red tape and currency fluctuations, the 4.4 MW Bronkhorstspruit biogas power plant, which will supply clean energy to a leading automotive manufacturer in Gauteng, is expected to enter production before June....
South African paper and pulp producer Sappi reported earlier this month that it would build a pilot plant for the production of low-cost Cellulose NanoFibrils, or CNF (nanocellulose) at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Sittard-Geleen in the Netherlands.
The long-term outlook for Nigeria is a country that has the potential to be very strong. So affirmed International Monetary Fund (IMF) Nigeria Mission Chief and Senior Resident Representative Dr Gene Leon on recently. "But we are starting from a point of huge...
Poor infrastructure planning and inadequate maintenance are becoming increasingly problematic for new developments and the associated infrastructure required to support such developments. In many urban and rural municipalities, the state of infrastructure has been...