Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed a revolutionary new hand prosthesis powered and controlled by the user’s breathing.
This simple, lightweight device offers an alternative to Bowden cable-driven body-powered prosthetics initially developed in the early 19th century – particularly for those too young or anatomically unsuited to an uncomfortable harness and cable system.
Several prosthetic options exist, depending on the level of upper limb difference, among other factors. But, little progress has been made in developing new approaches to power and control of body-actuated devices compared with sophisticated externally powered prosthetics.
The most widely used functional upper-limb prosthesis continues to remain the cable-driven body-powered system – which can be prohibitively expensive to own and maintain in low-resource settings because of the costs associated with the necessary professional fitting and maintenance.
The new approach provides an alternative body-powered device for users in situations where cost, maintenance, comfort, and ease of use are primary considerations. By regulating their breathing, users power a small purpose-built Tesla turbine that can accurately control the prosthetic finger movements. The volume of air needed to power the unit can be achieved by young children, and the gearing in the unit determines the speed of the grasping action.
The device is cable and harness free, making it easily suitable for children and growing adolescents. Compared to other prosthetic options, only minimal maintenance and training are required for ease of use.
The researchers have been working with LimbBo, a leading UK-based charity for children with limb differences, to develop and refine the device.
“The breathing-powered prosthetic (Airbender) has the potential to broaden prosthetic options for children and adolescents, especially in India and other developing countries that lack appropriate technology,” said a spokesperson from Mobility India, an NGO based in Bengaluru, India, working with the researchers on user testing.