i-LIMB HAND, INDEX: AWARD 2009 FINALIST.
“I joined the company, Touch Bionics, in 2007 as the clinical trials were finishing on the hand. And when I came in there were many changes I redesigned the product to make it robust for its application.
“One of the main items inside the product that was a liability at the time was the tendon. There’s a component inside each of the separate fingers that allows the digit to rotate” similar to movement of a natural finger.
“I developed a silicon-injection material developed over 12 months for putting coatings inside the skin so that a patient can put the ‘skin’ onto the hand. The skin takes away power from the hand, and so this becomes one of the challenges of hand, too: Yes, it has to look good, but it also has to perform well.”
“There are over a million cycles of movement” built into testing of the durability of the solution. “Probably I went through over 50 materials. You know, if someone is wearing the hand and it takes an impact, the cable has to be able to withstand that.””The material at the time was failing within a couple of days. I worked with all kinds of fibers for at least three months, and eventually came up with a material which would take the hand to up to 75 pounds of load. And I only had 40-thousandths of an inch, so it had to be a very thin tendon cable.”
“We’ve also acquired a company in the America called LIVINGSKIN. They’re a company that has manufactured the prosthetic components for restoration” of lost limbs “so when we acquired them, it helped us make a human-form covering for the i-LIMB product.
“We have about 700 hands in the market now, we’re in 40 different countries globally. Our biggest market is in America, we have a whole infrastructure for sales and marketing there.
“I’d say there are 500 hands in use with patients.”
In general, Gill says, Touch Bionics will sell an i-LIMB hand to a prosthetics company (which creates the custom-made socket for a patient, with which to attach the hand) for some $15,000 (US). And, he says, it can cost about double that for the process of evaluating, designing and creating the correct socketing for the hand.
As Touch Bionics points out, some patients like the high-tech appearance of the hand, itself, and they like a very thin, translucent covering for it that reveals its sleek mechanics. But others, of course, would prefer something more lifelike. And this is no matter of a mere glove.
“One of the main challenges of the i-LIMB is the covering that goes over the hand. I developed a silicon-injection material developed over 12 months for putting coatings inside the skin so that a patient can put the ‘skin’ onto the hand. The skin takes away power from the hand, and so this becomes one of the challenges of hand, too: Yes, it has to look good, but it also has to perform well.”
Gill, who divides his time between Touch Bionics’ headquarters outside Edinburgh and New York, says that after working for six companies in machine design — including work on the Chunnel — he wanted to join Touch Bionics because, as he puts it, “the product is a very emotional product and I really wanted to try to put something back into society.
“Watching some of these patients is humbling when you see how you can help them, especially the military guys.
You see the digits moving again. The fingers moving. And they shake your hand, which you cannot do with any other” product of this kind. “There’s always tears.”
Stuart Mead (concept development and commercialization); Hugh Gill (electronics and mechanical design); David Gow (patent holder and founder); Phil Newman (market knowledge and product development), United Kingdom.