It may not be quite as sophisticated as Luke Skywalker’s, but Star Wars is a movie, and the prosthetic hand scientists have now managed to create is pretty darn impressive, to say the least.
Brought to the world by prosthetics manufacturer Steeper, the innovative “bebionic” small hand is the latest model to come from the UK-based company, and it’s their most lifelike model yet. The artificial hand is the result of seven years of research and development, which involved not only the adoption of military technology but methods employed by Formula 1 engineers also. And the team certainly didn’t skimp on materials, either, exploiting rare Earth magnets for its patented finger control system and an aluminum alloy used in the construction of aircrafts to keep it lightweight.
Researchers began by creating a structure based around the architecture of a typical small hand and then fitted the mechanics around this, which allowed them to maintain anatomical accuracy. Other similar designs, Steeper’s technical director Ted Varley explains, worked the opposite way around, starting with the technology and then working with the structure, which can mean the end result is unfortunately less lifelike.
Alongside staying true to the architecture of a human hand, it does a pretty good job of functioning like one, too, thanks to the 14 different grips and positions it can make. Three hundred and thirty-seven mechanical parts were used to build it, which have been miniaturized from previous models to make the hand suitable for women, teenagers and smaller-framed men.
Despite all of these bits and pieces, the whole thing weighs less than 400 grams (14 ounces), but that doesn’t mean strength is compromised: It can bear the weight of 45 kilograms (99 pounds). Most of the weight of the hand has been distributed around the wrist so that the fingers aren’t unnaturally heavy.
So how does it work? The hand features various sensors that pick up the user’s muscle movements and then send this information to individual finger motors and microprocessors that continuously monitor finger position. It also comes with an auto grip function that automatically detects when something is about to slip from the hand and tweaks the grip to make sure it doesn’t drop.
The innovative hand was showcased this week at the London Prosthetics Center, but it’s already been fitted to a user in the UK: 29-year-old Nicky Ashwell, who was born without her right hand. Before receiving the prosthetic, Ashwell had a cosmetic hand that was lifelike but did not move and thus did not endow her with most of the functions of a hand. While difficult to get used to at the start, Ashwell said that it has been a major improvement to her life and has enabled her to do things that were previously impossible.