A father who lost his arm in an accident six years ago has been given a new lease of life by a high-tech bionic hand which is so precise he can type again.
Nigel Ackland, 53, has been fitted with the Terminator-like carbon fibre mechanical hand which he can control with movements in his upper arm.
The new bebionic3 myoelectric hand, which is also made from aluminium and alloy knuckles, moves like a real human limb by responding to Nigel’s muscle twitches.
Incredibly, the robotic arm is so sensitive it means the dad-of-one Nigel can touch type on a computer keyboard, peel vegetables, and even dress himself for the first time in six years.
Nigel operates the futuristic arm by sending the same signal from his brain he used to operate his original, human arm.
The thought flexes muscles in his upper arm, which are detected by sensors that trigger one of 14 pre-programmed grips, mirroring human movements.
The different grip patterns include a clenched fist, a pointed finger and a pincer and a lighter and heavier according to how the user tenses their upper arm.
Nigel is one of just seven people in the world to be given the arm as part of a four-month trial, which it is hoped will see the electronic arm made publicly available.
The smelter, who was forced to retire after losing his arm, said his new hand has given him “a whole new quality of life”.
He said: “I knew straight away that the end result of my accident would be horrible so I asked for my arm to be cut off, which was the right decision in the end as the arm was dead anyway.
“I tried to go back to work but I really struggled, everyday tasks were extremely hard.
“When you lose a part of you it can take you into quite a dark place – it is a shame the bebionic3 isn’t available for everyone, it is a whole new quality of life.
“Prior to this I used prosthetic limbs provided by the NHS which were horrible. I used a hook which didn’t resemble a hand at all.
“I am slowly becoming more at one with it, the fingers even move when I yawn and stretch, but it will never be the same as having my own hand.
“Things like tying a shoe lace and chopping a vegetable are now much easier.
“I have been blown away by the robotic hand, I could sit and watch it all day – I feel like the Terminator.”
Right-handed Nigel, who lives with his wife Vanessa, 50, and son Conor,19, in Royston, Cambs., lost his arm when it became caught in an industrial blending machine at the Johnson Matthey smelting plant in 2006.
The metal worker instantly knew he had lost the lower-half of his limb even though doctors worked frantically to save it.
After six months of operations and infections Nigel decided to have an elective trans-radial (below elbow) amputation.
But the severity of Nigel’s injury meant his amputation wasn’t straight forward and left him with a flared stump and difficulty finding suitable prosthetics.
His injuries meant he was forced to take early retirement, but struggled to help at home became his dexterity was limited to the basic tasks he could perform with a replacement hook.
Nigel was approached by Leeds-based prosthetics company, RSLSteeper, in May this year and asked if he would like to trail their latest hand – the most high-tech available in the world.
The hand features a lifelike appearance and grip patterns which can be wirelessly programmed and tailored to suit each individual’s requirements.
To make it look as natural as possible the hand can be covered with a realistic silicone skin, available in 19 different shades, although Nigel has not been given one for the trial.
While the hand has changed his life Nigel says it still has limitations and the keen musician has not been able to start playing the piano and saxophone again.
The bebionic3 myoelectric hand is set to be unveiled officially for the first time today at a launch event in London.
Nigel yesterday said he hopes company bosses will be able to let him keep the arm, or make alternative arrangements for him to get a replacement.
Nigel added: “When you first lose a limb it can take a massive blow to your confidence.
“People in the street don’t really know how to react to the fact that you have no arm and as a result you can be left feeling exceptionally withdrawn.
“With the Terminator arm people will come up and ask you about it.
“It is almost like it is science fiction for them which is amazing. For the first time in six years I’m finally back in the loop.
“People notice it when I am just walking along in the street and they come and ask questions.
“I don’t really like people feeling sorry for me or shying away from me, so for that not to be happening is life-changing.
“Since I started the trial it has made a massive difference to my day-to-day life and my health as well.
“For example if you have two arms, two hands and you need to pull your trousers on, you can do it in four or five swift moves.
“If you do it one handed you are looking at 18 or 19 moves so your body is forever over worked and run down.
“With the special arm I can hold my dogs lead, hold the vegetables when I’m cutting them and even grab my bank cards.
“It is like being your old-self, with a very cool piece of machinery helping you.”
Paul Steeper, managing director of products division, at RSLSteeper, said the bionic hand could “revolutionise” people lives.
Paul Steeper said: “Bebionic3 is the culmination of many years of development, and has the potential to revolutionise the lives of amputees across the world.
“We have been able to make significant improvements to the design of what was already the world’s most advanced myo-electric hand, making it more precise, easier to programme and more robust.
“The new hand has been designed to help amputees to tackle real-life, everyday situations, and provides the perfect balance between advanced technology, functionality and aesthetics.
“As ever, it will be affordably priced to ensure that it is accessible to as many potential users as possible.”
The terminator hand costs between 8,000 and 12,000 depending on the individual programming required for each patient.
This does not include the cost of the clinical treatment required to build the hand into a bespoke prosthetic arm and fit this to the patient.
Nigel Ackland was treated at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, after his accident at work six years ago.
The hospital then put him in contact with RSLSteeper.
Electronic sensor pads sit on Nigel’s stump and detect muscle movement in his upper arm, which then driver motors connected to his electrical hand and fingers.
The bionic hand movements work on an electrical circuit system, which turns each upper arm movement into a command for a motor in the hand.
Each motor powers a different element of the hand and finger joints to create one of the desired 14 movements.
The system means Nigel uses his arm as if it was still whole and relies on the sensors turning each movement into the according lower arm and hand movement.
Operating the device becomes instinctive – just like using a real hand – once the user has been properly trained.
They begin to recognise which movements in their upper arm correspond to movements in their robotic arm.
A monitor within the hand tracks the mechanical movements, threading them together into continuous movement, ensuring a smooth and co-ordinated motion.
This sophistication means the bionic hand can roll the wrist and curl the fingers in a continuous human-like fashion.
The bionic arm charges by being plugged into the mains and can last up to 16 hours.
The total cost of making the arm, the programming and consultation is estimated at around 25,000.
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