CHAMPAIGN, IL — More than one and a half million people in the U.S. live with limb loss. The vast majority undergo amputation below the elbow.
For one scientist, the quest to bring a lightning-fast bionic hand to the market has been years in the making.
Inside PSYONIC’s engineering lab in Illinois, innovation is afoot. Over the last six years, the company has been developing a revolutionary bionic hand.
“Our hand is actually the fastest bionic hand in the world,” said company founder and CEO Aadeel Akhtar. “It closes in about 200 milliseconds, faster than we can blink our own eyes.”
Akhtar, whose parents are from Pakistan, was visiting there when he was 7 years old. He met a young girl living in poverty who was missing her right leg and using a tree branch as a crutch. It was at that moment that he was inspired to grow up to engineer advanced prostheses that are affordable for everyone worldwide.
“It's meant for people who have lost their hand or were born without one to be able to control a robotic hand that they can use for doing activities of daily living,” said Akhtar.
The Ability Hand can be charged via USB. It has a carbon fiber palm and silicone-coated fingers, making it lightweight and tough.
“I can smash this against the table, and it can totally survive that impact,” said Akhtar.
Muscle sensors attached to the remaining limb allow the user to operate the hand.
In October of 2005, now-retired Sgt. Garrett Anderson and his reconnaissance platoon were ambushed while on patrol in Iraq.
“Two roadside bombs exploded under my vehicle, severed my arm bad enough where they had to amputate,” he said.
For the last few years, he’s been working with PSYONIC, collaborating and testing the ability hand.
“If my daughter grabbed my hand, there's no way to know that unless there were sensory feedback,” said Anderson.
“It's also the first hand on the market to give users touch feedback,” said Akhtar. “So, when Sgt. Anderson holds his daughter's hand, he can actually feel it.”
For Cody Conrady, who lost his arm in a farming accident two years ago, getting back to work has been challenging.
“It allows me to drive and run the hydraulics with my good hand at the same time. Otherwise, I'd be fumbling back and forth between steering and running the hydraulics on my ends,” he said.
It's 20% lighter than the average human hand, and the stress on his arm has been lessened as well.
“With this hand being so light, that it's not leveraging on my elbow, creating that much more, I guess weight,” said Conrady.
Bionic hands can cost up to $70,000. Aside from Veterans Affairs benefits and workers' compensation, insurance coverage can vary.
Akhtar says by keeping their costs down and securing Medicare coverage for the ability hand, they can expand access to 75% of the population that needs it.
“A lot of the technology that we use for doing the motor control in the hand is directly applicable to knees and ankles and elbows, as well,” said Akhtar. “So, we're already looking into designs for an ability leg and below the elbow as well.”
Following a year-and-half soft launch in the Midwest, PSYONIC expects to release the ability hand nationwide in the coming months.