Man Receives New Bionic Hand With Electronic Opposable Thumb

Wrist positioning is just one of many improvements that make the Michelango Hand feel more natural to amputees.

On January 12 Matt Razink received a prosthetic hand equipped with an electric opposable thumb. The Michelangelo Hand has given Razink so much added control that he no longer needs to change attachments according to the task. The new hand does it all.

The Wisconsin resident had lost part of his arm in a rock-crushing machine six years ago. He traveled to Advanced Arm Dynamics in Maple Grove, MN to try the new hand on for size. Advanced Arm Dynamics works closely with Otto Bock, makers of advanced bionic hands that are guided by the electrical activity of nerves and muscles in the forearm. Rezink has only had the Hand for a short time, but already it has made a world of difference. “It’s more natural to me,” he told CNN. “It’s like it used to be, before I lost my arm.” In the days and weeks to come, his control over the hand will only improve as he continues to train with it.

Along with the electric opposable thumb, the battery-powered Michelangelo Hand features a neutral mode for natural hand positioning, and a flexible wrist that can be moved up and down and turned inward and outward. Advanced software and improved electrical signal processing have also increased responsiveness and predictability, making movements that much more instinctive. A computer program is used to customize settings to each patient for maximum control. Movements are controlled by two drivers that control the fingers and the thumb separately. The fingertips are made with both hard and soft material that closely mimics the structure of real fingertips for more natural gripping. The PVC skin also looks impressively real, and it comes in several color variations for a more natural appearance.

In the following video from Advanced Arm Dynamics, retired army sergeant Ethan Payton demonstrates the Michelangelo Hand. I think you’ll agree that the level of control is pretty remarkable. The Hand is sure to be a game changer for the upper prosthetics field.

Ten US soldiers who’d lost their hands fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have received Michelangelo Hands, but Rezink is the first civilian to do so. The added control doesn’t come cheap. A Hand costs about $100,000 and some insurance companies won’t cover it. According to Kare11 in Minneapolis, Rezink is currently negotiating with his insurance company to help cover the cost.

The vast majority of amputees suffer lower limb loss. In 2005, 623 Americans suffered amputation of a lower limb while only 41 lost an upper limb. Advanced Arm Dynamics argues that the huge disparity can turn many general prosthetists from investing in the training and specialized equipment required to treat upper limb amputees.

When Rezink lost his hand his biggest concern was not being able to return to work, to provide for his family. Hopefully the Michelangelo Hand offers a way back to life “like it used to be” for Rezink and others waiting for a hand that’s closer to the one they lost.

[image credits: CNN and Otto Bock via chemitec]

image 1: Michelangelo
image 2: Michelangelo
video 1: Michelangelo
video 2: Rezink

Peter Murray
Peter Murray
Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.
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