London, June 10 : The world's first commercially available bionic hand, called the i-LIMB, has won this year's MacRobert award.
The prosthetic device that looks and acts like a real human hand with five individually powered digits beat three other finalists to win the UK's top engineering prize, conferred by the Royal Academy of Engineering, at a ceremony in London on Monday.
Ever since the device went on sale in July last year, it has been fitted to more than 200 people, including US soldiers who lost limbs during the Iraq War.
The device first came to light in Scotland in 1963, as part of a project to help children affected by Thalidomide.
Presently, a company called Touch Bionics based in Mid Calder, Livingston, produces this device.
"It's such a fantastic invention. When the arm was put on, I had tears rolling down my face. It was the first time in 21 years that I had seen a hand open," the BBC quoted Ray Edwards, a quadruple amputee and one of the first people in the UK to be fitted with the device, as saying.
"I can do a thumbs-up, I can hold a pen and I can do many things that I couldn't do before," he added.
The three other competitors beat off by i-LIMB at the event included a robotic system designed to care for millions of biological samples in sub-zero temperatures, a chemical sensor which could detect early stages of disease, and a compact soot filter for diesel cars.
"Touch Bionics have fundamentally changed the benchmark for what constitutes an acceptable prosthesis," said Dr Geoff Robinson, chairman of the MacRobert Award Judging Panel.
"Having tried it myself, I can vouch for the fact that it really does work in the way portrayed, even if one is fortunate enough to still have one's own real hand alongside," he added.
Telling about the main properties of the device, Touch Bionics' CEO Stuart Mead said: "The hand has two main unique features. The first is that we put a motor into each finger, which means that each finger is independently driven and can articulate. The second is that the thumb is rotatable through 90 degrees, in the same way as our thumbs are."
Mead added: "The hand is the first prosthetic hand that replicates both the form and the function of the human hand."
He revealed that the i-LIMB does not require surgery to be fitted to the patient's stump.
"There are two electrodes that sit on the skin that pick up myoelectric signals," said Mead, adding that such impulses are created by the contraction of muscle fibres in the body.
"They are used by the computer in the back of the hand, which does two things: it interprets those signals and it controls the hand," he added.
Touch Bionics experts are now hoping to improve the design of the i-Limb as well as expanding its range of smart prosthetics.
"We are working a full-arm system - we have a prototype wrist, elbow and shoulder," said Mead.