High-tech prosthetic scoops �50k prize

The company behind the world's first commercially available bionic hand has collected one of the UK's biggest prizes for engineering innovation.

Livingston-based Touch Bionics was awarded the £50,000 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award for its development of the i-LIMB Hand, a prosthetic device that looks and acts like a real human hand with five individually powered digits.

i-LIMB started life in 1963 as part of a research programme at Edinburgh's Princess Margaret Rose Hospital to help children affected by Thalidomide. The key innovation developed in the years since then is multi-articulating finger technology that exploits leading-edge electronic and mechanical engineering techniques.

Ray Edwards, a quadruple amputee who had an i-LIMB hand fitted recently, says it has changed his life. Having survived Hodgkin's Disease only to have all four limbs amputated in 1987 after he developed septicaemia, he now runs a construction company customising houses for disabled people and is acting chair of the UK Limbless Association.

"When I first looked down and saw the i-LIMB hand I just cried," he said.  "i-LIMB has helped me more psychologically than physically. That was the first time in 21 years that I had seen a hand opening there - it made me feel I was just Ray again. You can do so much with technology but it's got to make the user happy and i-LIMB does."

Touch Bionics CEO Stuart Mead was one of a team from the company who collected their prize from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony in London.  "The i-LIMB Hand is one of the most compelling devices in the world prosthetics market," said Mead.  "Since we launched it in July 2007 over 200 patients have been fitted with it all over the world. In just a few months it has evolved from an exciting new technology into a new benchmark in prosthetic devices."

Visitors to London's Science Museum will be able to see the prize-winning technology in a display in the Antenna science news gallery that runs until September.

Touch Bionics beat off competition from three other finalists. On the shortlist were the Automation Partnership won recognition for Polar, a robotic system designed for the UK Biobank medical research centre; Johnson Matthey for its compact catalysed soot filter for diesel cars, and Owlstone for a chip-scale system capable of detecting trace amounts of chemicals.

Image: Ray Edwards with his i-LIMB prosthetic hand

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