Bionic hand offers strength, sense of touch to amputees

Medical Watch

We use our hands every day but rarely appreciate the incredible tools. One man who grasped that value long ago has made it his life’s mission to give amputees a hand. 

Artificial limbs are constantly evolving. Armed with human-like movement and quick reflexes the latest model is quite durable

Aadeel Akhtar, PhD is a neuroscientist and inventor with Psyonic.

“This is actually lighter than a human hand,” he said of the model. “It’s the fastest bionic hand in the world. … The whole idea for building bionic limbs started when I was 7 years old.”

On a family trip to Pakistan, Akhtar met an amputee.

“That is the first time I met someone with a limb difference,” he said. “She was my age and missing her right leg and using a tree branch as a crutch.”

The experience ultimately inspired him to invent the ability hand. He started building prototypes seven years ago at the University of Illinois.

“There are six motors inside the hand. Each one controls flexion and extension of each of the fingers and then one for thumb rotation as well,” Akhtar said.

Made from carbon fiber, rubber and silicone, there’s science behind its strength.

“It’s also the first hand on the market to give users touch feedback,” he said.

Touch triggers a vibration.

“They have pressure sensors built in and there is a vibration motor built in so when (touched) you can feel a vibration,” he said.

Dan St Pierre lost his hand in a work accident in 2009.

“I was a commercial diver,” he said. “I was doing some work underwater and my hand got trapped into a machine.”

The father of two young children tried out a few other devices before connecting with Akhtar.

The ability hand is a type of myo-electronic prosthesis – micro-compressors, motors and internal wiring work in concert to help the amputee execute movements.

At his workshop in Joliet, Illinois, David Rotter builds prosthetics of all shapes and sizes. A skilled craftsman, he also helps keep high-tech options grounded in practicality.

“In the past 15 to 20 years there has been an explosion of technology,” he said.

“The way this hand is controlled is through muscle sensors we place on your residual limb and then by flexing those muscles that are still present, you can actually use that to control the hand to do different movements,” Akhtar said.

Sensors have changed the way prosthetics operate. They capture energy generated by existing muscles and send it to the artificial limb as a command.

“If it works correctly, it doesn’t seem complex for the user,” Rotter said.

“Once you start doing it, it becomes second nature,” St Pierre said.

Different motions are programmed through an app then stored on the prosthesis via Bluetooth.

“He’s able to do different grips with it (like) a tripod grip that you can use for grabbing objects in daily living,” Akhtar said.

“For me, one of the big things is I do like to work out a lot. And it has given me the ability to get back to working out with two hands instead of one.” St Pierre said.  

From everyday tasks to workouts the purpose is to empower amputees.

The ability hand ranges in cost from $10 to $20,000 but is covered by many insurance plans and Medicare. Akhtar is hoping to start a non-profit to help all those who need access to advanced bionic limbs.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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