A full-scale trial at Nottingham City Hospital on young patients who have only a partial hand has paved the way for the technology to become available on the NHS.
It has taken more than 20 years for the high-tech hands to be developed by engineers and doctors.
They have solved the problem of how to make the motors and batteries small enough to be completely self-contained.
This is important because it allows the very young to be fitted with the mechanical hand early enough in their lives so that they can adapt to the device and get the maximum performance out of it.
Bag of crisps
Dr David Gow, who pioneered the research at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Edinburgh in the 1970s and 1980s, said: “If you don’t get the children very young, and fit them once they are able to crawl, they are not going to get much use out of it later in life.
“It helps me do a lot of things – I can open doors, hold a book and turn the pages, and hold a bag of crisps.”
His mother Margaret said the powered prosthetic had made a huge impact on her son.
“He used to have one hand now he has got two and that is just wonderful for him and us,” she said.
“I am delighted he was able to take part in the clinical trials.”
The two motors that operate the hand are contained entirely in the thumb and forefinger. This allows the hand to be fitted to patients who have half a hand.
The unit is operated by signals from the brain. The user sends a signal to move a muscle in the forearm, and electrodes detect this and pass the message on to the motors.
The team now plans to build bigger versions of the hand for use in adult patients. So far, five children, aged between two and 11, have been fitted with the Prodigit hands at Nottingham.
A new hope has arrived for amputees that would make Luke Skywalker feel right at home: a highly advanced bionic hand controlled by a patient’s mind and muscles.
The newly released iLimb is the first prosthetic hand to have fully functional motorized digits that move and bend independently, its makers say. Electrodes taped to the skin transmit signals to tiny motors that power the fingers.
Previous artificial hands had only a thumb and forefinger that worked in a clawlike grasping action. But the new device allows amputees to carry out more delicate movements such as peeling a banana, typing on a computer, or eating with a knife and fork.
The iLimb is also covered by a semitransparent “cosmesis” that is computer modeled to look like human skin.
The hand, manufactured by Touch Bionics of Scotland, went on sale Tuesday in Britain for £8,500 (U.S. $17,454).
Fourteen amputees, including Iraq war veterans, were fitted with the robotic hand during an extensive trial period. One of these patients, Donald McKillop, 61, lost his right hand in an industrial accident nearly 30 years ago.
“They tell you to try and think as if you have two hands,” McKillop told the Telegraph newspaper.
“It is a real learning curve, and every day it gets easier. I was amazed how much I could do within the first hour of trying it.”