When someone says the word wearables, you probably think of smartwatches, wrist mounted fitness bands or perhaps the Oculus Rift headset. Maybe you’re more of a purist and consider only smart clothing as wearable though, in which case you might bring up Intel’s recent development of a smart-shirt. Some however, look at wearables as more than just clothes, headsets and wrist mounted gadgets. Some consider the true wearables to be smart prosthetics.
That’s what the i-Limb Ultra is.
Fans of Game of Thrones will know that prosthetics haven’t always been the most nuanced, but today they’re something quite extraordinary. The i-Limb comes with five, individually powered, articulating fingers, letting users grasp, adjust, tweak or pinch in very fine tuned movements. Accurate control of the thumb is possible, with proportional force for each joint, allowing for heavily customisable movements and actions.
The i-Limb works by connecting up to electronic sensors in a wrist mounted device, which detects signals sent to the muscles, articulating the prosthesis based on these commands. Training is required, which can be completed with the real hand and accompanying software, or through a virtual training module. Users need to learn to use the new limb and it can take some quite intense training.
Once that’s complete however, those with missing hands can gain relatively normal functionality with the prosthesis, giving them fine control over many actions. For visual preference, there’s also several coatings that can be placed over the prosthetic, giving it a more metallic, coloured, or skin tone look. For now there doesn’t seem to be a gold-hand option, but I’m sure there will be one before long.
While the i-Limb can’t perform all of the functions of a real hand, it has a catalogue of many different motions that allow users to pick up objects, type, or adjust sensitive items like their glasses, without fear of damaging them.
For ongoing support, there’s a 12-60 month warranty on the product and it’s also compatible with a large number of more extensive upper-body prosthetics.
While the official website doesn’t list a cost, perhaps due to varied amounts depending on insurance coverage and other factors, the i-Limb had been noted as costing between $38,000 and $120,000, depending on how far up the arm it needs to be mounted and whether a custom skin-coating is required.
Cost, is obviously going to be a factor when ever anything life changing costs as much as this product does. Beyond the fact that it needs some time to train with though, the i-Limb seems like a revolutionary product.
Fortunately I’m in a position where I can’t say that I’d like to try one of these, as I don’t have the required missing limb. For those that do need such a prosthetic however, the i-Limb seems like the holy grail, combining massive function with personal touches like skin-tone coverings, it’s taking us one step closer to the advanced prosthetics we saw in recent movies like Robocop.