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Bionic hand can bear 200-pound loads

Touch Bionics upgrades its bionic hand with the i-Limb Pulse, allowing users to increase their grip strength on grasped objects.

Ian Reid, a Scottish firefighter who lost his hand in a bus accident, shows off his i-Limb Pulse. Touch Bionics

Touch Bionics has upgraded its bionic i-Limb Hand with a model that features controllable grip strength, miniaturized components, and rugged aluminum construction that can bear loads up to about 200 pounds.

To be unveiled next week at Orthopaedie + Reha-Technik 2010 in Leipzig, Germany, the i-Limb Pulse uses high-frequency electronic pulses to drive each digit motor to gradually tighten its grip on objects such as shoelaces or belts. This gives users better control over intricate grasping motions.

Users can control preset digit and grip postures, for instance a pointing index finger, with Bluetooth-enabled software called MyBioSim, which can also be used with the firm's bionic finger product, ProDigits. In addition, users can link their Pulse to a home computer and select the grip patterns they use the most, eliminating the need to visit a prosthetist.

The Pulse can carry loads up to about 200 pounds. Touch Bionics

The Pulse will be available in two sizes and can be worn by men and women. Miniaturization of the device's components and internal structures has given the Pulse more "natural body lines," according to the company.

The Hand and the Pulse use faint signals on the skin's surface (myoelectric impulses) from remaining arm muscles and the sensations associated with "phantom limbs" to drive the individually powered digits in the bionic hands. With training, patients can generate impulses that will prompt the hands to produce finger actions such as index pointing, handy for using an ATM keypad.

Another bionic prosthesis that debuts at Orthopaedie + Reha-Technik 2010 is the BeBionic hand from RSLSteeper. It features powered wrist rotation and "flexion/extension," as well as lifelike silicone skin covering available in 19 shades.

Touch Bionics, whose products are used by more than 1,200 people worldwide, is now accepting orders for the Pulse, which starts shipping June 1. The company hasn't disclosed the cost for the Pulse as many factors, such as socket design, artificial skin covering, and rehab, are involved.