Play the piano. Lift 20-kg bags. Use a laptop. You can do all this — even if your hand or arm has been amputated — using India’s first bionic arm, available for the first time in India.
Unveiled to the HT on Wednesday, the silicone-skinned arm is called iLimb, looks startlingly human and is controlled directly by the brain and muscles.
At Rs 20 lakh, the iLimb arm is about 13 times as expensive as a conventional artificial limb now available in India. That’s like comparing a Ferrari with a Premier Padmini.
Each of the bionic arm’s fingers are motorised — moving, bending and grasping much like a real hand. Its wires are plugged directly into an amputee’s nerves, which relay signals from the brain, much like a real hand.
India has about a million (10 lakh) amputees, who rely on simple prostheses that can, at best, open and close. Some amputees have reconstructed hands or transplanted fingers, which are often hard to use or useless.
iLimb’s motorised fingers allows amputees to move each finger, form different grips, and so pick up a pen, carry a water bottle or crush a cup.
“It replicates delicate movements and the force of the natural hand by moving each finger, including an opposing thumb, for actions as diverse as playing the piano to carrying bags that weigh 20 kg,” said Sailesh Kumar, vice president, Innovative Prosthetics and Orthotics, who trained with the arm’s creators —Touch Bionics, a Scottish company, which first sold it in 2007 — and will distribute the iLimb in India.
The iLimb does a good job of hiding its advanced electronics and mechanics: It looks like a real arm, down to matching the amputee's skin and other details, like creases, hair and veins.
“Black is a popular colour with soldiers, for the Terminator look,” said Gaurav Mishra, director of international business, Touch Bionics. It’s sold in 30 countries and to the armed forces in the UK, US, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Mishra said a 31-year-old Australian Navy diver who lost a hand and a leg in a Sydney Harbour shark attack in February this year is back to diving, while a pianist in Spain is back to playing after getting the iLimb in September 2008.
The grip is sensitive and the curving movement of the iLimb’s fingers is controlled by the opposing force of the object in hand. That means a user is unlikely to break the glass — unless of course he/she wants to.