RSLSteeper, creator of the Bebionic artificial hand, has just announced that the hand will be offered at a price of $11,000 (€9000) around the world. Amputees control the prosthetic limb using my-oelectric sensors that read signals on the surface of the skin from residual muscle. To the outside observer it looks like you are moving the hand with your thoughts. This advanced system typically allows you to start using the new limb immediately and get comfortable with it in a few days. While Bebionic is not the only myo-electric hand on the market, it does seem to be the least expensive. That may lead to many amputees choosing to adopt it when it goes on sale later this month. Check out the video below of the launch of Bebionic during the ISPO World Congress in May. Watch amputees completely new to the device try it out around 2:40!
RSLSteeper faces fierce competition from TouchBionics, the maker of the i-Limb Hand, which has been on the market for a few years, and comes with removable digits. As I mentioned when I first reviewed the Bebionic hand in February, the i-Limb is a very similar device, and both have the same four major grips that users can switch between (key, precision, pointer, power). Touch Bionics may have stepped out ahead last month with the release of the i-Limb Pulse, a new hand that allows for pulsing grips and a few other upgrades. However, the Bebionic's price tag is a powerful advantage, and is about 35% less than i-Limb (~$17k USD at time of writing). Maybe RSLSteeper read the end of my latest article on their device?
We have to remember that most hand amputees still use traditional hook systems that haven't really changed much since the 40s and that retail for $500 or so. A big reason is that (except for veterans) most amputees can't get enough money from their insurance agencies to cover expensive prosthetics. $11,000 still isn't cheap, but it's a big step in the right direction. Though it would be nice if the fancy synthetic skin covering (available in 19 shades of humanity) was included in that price instead of an additional $600. In any case, major kudos to RSLSteeper for getting a top of the line myo-electric hand closer to fitting in the budget of the average family.
My accolades, however, are notoriously fickle. I would gladly praise Touch Bionics or any other company that can get a myo-electric hand to the market for less than $10k. So keep up the competition, please! Eventually we may see prosthetic hands directly wired into the nervous system, but until we do myo-electrics are still the most advanced systems out there. Not as good as a natural hand, but they come pretty close. Check out the Bebionic in action in the promo video below (apologies for using it for a third time).
*UPDATE: The Bebionic hand will be offered through SPS in the United States, though a USA branch of RSLSteeper will be opening in San Antonion, Texas later this month.
[screen capture and video credit: Bebionic/Mark Hunter]
[source: RSL Steeper press release]