Earlier this month, a U.K. woman named Nicky Ashwell became the first of her country to receive the “world’s most lifelike bionic hand.” Designed by Steeper using Formula 1 and military technology, the bebionic hand is modeled on human skeletal structure, making it innovative in its comprehensive functionality.
Ashwell was born without her right hand, making activities the rest of us take for granted impossible. “The movements now come easily and look natural,” she says. “I keep finding myself being surprised by the little things, like being able to carry my purse while holding my boyfriend’s hand.”
Developed small for women and teenagers, the 337-part bebionic hand contains individual motors powered by microprocessors in each finger, as well as wrist options, selectable thumb positions, and auto grip, and other features. Built-in sensors track the user’s muscle movements, making the hand a true extension of the body. It mimics a real human hand in the most realistic way we have ever seen.
Until now, 29-year-old Ashwell — like an unfortunately large number of people all over the world — has been getting by with the use of a cosmetic hand, which has zero functionality. This technology is life-changing, but it comes at a price very few can afford.
At £30,000 (that’s just over $47,000), Steeper’s tech is far from affordable. A widespread alternative adopted by other amputees (many of them children) are 3D-printed prosthetics, like the type 10-year-old Annika Emmert was gifted, or the one 11-year-old Baylee Abbott now wears. While these options are far cheaper, they also tend to be less reliable. “You could make a car out of Lego but it’s never going to be as good as a metal one,” says Stepper Technical Director Ted Varley.
Varley, however, is optimistic about the future. “I think gradually prices will fall and they will become more mainstream which will probably mean that in the future they are more readily available on the NHS, or the cost-benefit will become more attainable.”