New Prosthetic Hand So Nimble an Amputee Can Type
The i-LIMB has flexible hydraulic drives are located directly in the movable finger joints.
Credit: Touch Bionics, Orthopedic University Hospital

A new prosthetic hand uses individually movable fingers to hold a credit card, use a keyboard and lift a heavy bag.

Researchers bill it as the world's first commercially available prosthetic hand that can move each finger separately. The i-LIMB, made by the Scottish company Touch Bionics, is being tested at the Orthopedic University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany.

The hydraulic hand went on sale in Britain last year for about $17,500 and is being used by a small number of people. The company began operations in the United States earlier this year and plans to make the device more widely available.

Unlike similar models that allowed gripping with just the thumb and one or two fingers, the i-LIMB allows a user to grab something with all five. It also feels softer and more natural than the typically hard prosthetics of old, its maker says.

Flexible hydraulic drives are located directly in the movable finger joints, and the prosthetic hand gives feedback to the user's stump, enabling the amputee to sense the strength of the grip.

On the company's Web site are testimonials from a select few who have gotten an i-LIMB. Among them is 27-year-old retired U.S. Army Sgt. Juan Arredondo, whose hand was severed below the elbow by an explosive device in Iraq.

"I can pick up a Styrofoam cup without crushing it," said Sgt. Arredondo. "With my other myoelectric hand, I would really have to concentrate on how much pressure I was putting on the cup. The i-LIMB hand does things naturally. I can just grab the cup like a regular person."

The company is looking for a company to make the devices on a production scale. Meanwhile, it's also being tested by 18-year-old Soren Wolf, who was born with only one hand. Wolf is said to be enthusiastic about the device's capabilities, according to a statement issued today by Orthopedic University Hospital.