Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schulz (Sprecher)
Dipl.-Ing. Adrian Andres
Matthias Baßler, M.Sc. Vincent Systems GmbH, Karlsruhe
For anyone born without a hand or who loses a hand at some point in life, a functional replacement is found in modern prosthesis. However, it is difficult for children, youths and people with small hands or for those who are only missing part of the hand. Until recently, there were no suitable high-tech prostheses for them. How can they now be helped?
Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schulz, Dipl.-Ing. Adrian Andres und Matthias Baßler, M. Sc., have come up with a solution. They have developed new lightweight and small hand prostheses that can also be used for children and teens - as well as a modular prosthetic system capable of replacing individual missing fingers or part of a hand. The innovative bionic prostheses are also the first worldwide to be produced in series and include an artificial sense of touch that give wearers haptic impressions and a sense of forces. The three nominated researchers work at Vincent Systems GmbH. Stefan Schulz is the founder and Managing Director, Adrian Andres and Matthais Baßler are development engineers.
Every year around 10,000 people worldwide are fitted with an electronically-controlled prosthetic device. But: many people have not had access to this type of a technical hand replacement until recently. The high-tech prostheses available in the past were too heavy and too large and could not be used by children and teens and people with small and slender hands. Another factor is the comparatively large number of people who are only missing individual fingers or a partial hand and were previously only provided with passive cosmetic prostheses. The modular system for bionic partial hand prostheses developed by the three scientists from Karlsruhe overcomes these limitations.
At the core of the innovation is the world's smallest single finger prosthetic device with miniaturized motors. The active fingers and thumbs in different sizes together with frame elements form a very flexible, modular system that can be adapted to the individual residual limb of a user. By using durable lightweight materials and by optimizing the shape with the help of software, the new system is much lighter than other products without sacrificing stability: the hand prostheses weighs almost the same as a human hand. This simplifies its day-to-day use. An anatomically correct shape and natural appearance were especially important to the developers. Unlike the standard silicone glove common to most prostheses, this artificial hand has a rubberized surface, giving the prosthetic system haptics and a secure grasp.
The integrated artificial sense of touch is also new. It provides the user with sensory feedback on the forces exerted. The gripping power is converted into perceptible slight vibrations. The artificial tactile sense is what allows the prostheses to react very sensitively and also to grasp an object confidently without looking at it. It can also help to ease any phantom limb pain. Electrical signals from the muscles control the prostheses, allowing it to execute predefined grips. Other systems require additional devices to be able to select all types of grips. Using the new assistance-free control concept, however, allows all available grips to be selected only by means of muscle signals.
The technology is protected by several patents and has already been introduced to the market successfully. Vincent Systems sells hand prostheses for various levels of care, plan categories and hand sizes, including a high-tech hand with individual movable fingers designed specifically for children and teens. Vincent prostheses are already being supplied to orthopedic workshops in Germany, Europe and the USA. In supplying the smallest adult hand, the children's hand and the partial hand system, many more people can be served than was possible with the previous hand prostheses. Long-term plans include the development of a worldwide sales network and setting up dedicated supply and training centers delivering prostheses to patients and training prosthetists specifically for the challenge of partial hand care. The newly developed technologies also have other potential uses, such as in medical orthoses to support people with paralysis following a stroke to return to active day-to-day function.