How 5 Bionic Limbs Companies are Radically Creating Hope Through Innovation

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Major advancements in bionics technology are almost always represented by a research group or an academic team. This leaves breakthroughs independently developed by commercial bionic limbs companies to be on some online trending train, lest the announcement becomes completely forgotten the moment it is revealed.

Regardless of how they are introduced publicly, though, these companies are still working on some really great ideas that make them worthy of being considered as one of the best. Well, if not the best, at least the ones that grab a casual viewer’s attention the most.

Trending Bionic Limbs Companies in 2022 Overview

  1. Esper Bionics
  2. Mobius Bionics
  3. Open Bionics
  4. Ossur
  5. Ottobock

1. Esper Bionics

  • Year founded: 2019
  • Based in: New York, United States
  • About (Bionics-related): Advanced bionic limbs with up-to-date dexterity levels

This is one of the youngest bionics limbs companies that placed itself well into tech headlines with the use of integrated software systems that focus on learning and adaptation. The list of products offered by the company is still growing at the moment. In fact, the development team only has one to showcase to interested arm amputees.

The predictably-named Esper Hand, as previously introduced, offers a forearm-plus-hand solution for users who want a bionic arm that can be improved and customized over time without the assistance of maintenance experts.

one of many Bionic limbs companies  Esper bionics esper hand bionic hand eating popcorn

Yes, to some degree, all advanced bionic arms of the current generation are built to “learn”. But the Esper Hand focuses far more on building prediction algorithms and frequent usage improvements to optimize the level of practical dexterity of the fingers for each different user.

At least, that’s how it is advertised. Based on the finger movement available though, it really does seem to be independent of the typical grip modes that other myoelectric arms generally use.

As the company was only recently founded in the last three years, its track record isn’t as solid as more established players, such as Ossur. Nevertheless, its specialization team shows that if you have an innovation to prove your worth, it doesn’t matter how late you come into the game.

2. Mobius Bionics (DEKA)

  • Year founded: 2016
  • Based in: New Hampshire, United States

Mobius Bionics was developed as a medical device company with the express purpose of commercializing the latest breakthroughs in bionics limbs at the time of its foundation. To that end, one of its very first products was the LUKE Arm, a dexterity and flexibility-focused bionic arm developed by the DEKA Research and Development Corp.

The key feature that made the LUKE Arm stand out at the time of its introduction was its powered movement capacity. Typically, shoulder movement freedom is limited for bionic limb users because of the inability to translate upper arm motion to the residual muscles near the shoulder part.

Of course, after more than five years, newer bionic limbs have since then caught up. Nonetheless, the company still deems the latest version of the LUKE Arm worthy enough to take on the ever-increasing competition in its technological market.

In 2020, the LUKE Arm was one of the primary tools used for an important experiment that tests the dexterous capabilities of ultra-precise muscle voltage sensors. The way the prototype system shifts between different uses and different positions at the flick of thought is still something that is rarely witnessed with typical myoelectric sensory systems.

3. Open Bionics

  • Year founded: 2014
  • Based in: Bristol, United Kingdom
  • About (Bionics-related): Fabrication of affordable 3D printed bionic limbs

Since its foundation, Open Bionics has had only one direct objective in mind: to make advanced bionic limbs more available for the average consumer. Not just assistive prosthetics, but actual myoelectric arms and legs that properly react to muscle movements.

The company has since gathered a significant positive reputation for its efforts in both the fields of medicine and business, with big game conglomerates such as Disney and Konami opening partnership deals for special bionics-related programs.

The Hero Arm, the most popular product of Open Bionics so far, is hailed as the “world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm” and indeed, from feature sets alone, it appears that the product is doing what it is designed for quite well.

Not only does it perform competitively as a true sensor-based bionic limb, but the costs can also range from just a third to a mere 10% of the cost of high-standard prostheses.

For younger amputees, there are even the superhero-themed versions, promoting designs from current pop culture, as well as huge franchises related to robotics or bionics, in general.

Aside from offering relatively lower-cost 3D printed bionic limbs like the Hero Arm, Open Bionics also offers full 3D designs of certain high-tech prosthetic components. They are to be distributed under specific agreements and licenses but are otherwise available for download at zero cost. In August 2021, also opened its official amputee clinic, a first in the United Kingdom.

4. Ossur

  • Year founded: 1971
  • Based in: Reykjavik, Iceland
  • About (Bionics-related): Orthotics and prosthetics manufacturer

Even before the arrival of X86-based general-purpose computers, Ossur was already at the forefront of high-tech prosthesis development and marketing. To secure the needed intellectual assets and technologies, the company expanded through a series of strategic acquisitions, which continues to this day.

Ossur claims to have developed the world’s first complete bionic leg designs, described as symbionic legs, which may perhaps be the basis of many other derivative artificial leg designs that incorporate the typical combination of microprocessors and sensors (the overall “bionic” package”). For the company at least, the Rheo Knee and the Proprio Foot were built using similar design philosophies, not just focusing on mobility, but on (component) safety as well.

Today, Ossur offers a wide selection of practical prosthetics for all purposes, configurations, and physical limitations, which also include sensor-based bionic limbs. The world-famous Flex-Foot Cheetah high-performance carbon-fiber foot, though not technically a bionic limb, was also developed by Ossur.

Continuing its age-old trend of expanding its technological boundaries, Ossur acquired Scotland-based Touch Bionics in 2016, reintroducing the new line of i-Limb bionic hand products under its name. Touch Bionics technically should have been a completely separate entry of its own in this article, due to their equally remarkable bionic limb-related milestone achievements.

5. Ottobock

  • Year founded: 1919
  • Based in: Duderstadt, Germany
  • About (Bionics-related): Handicapped/Disabled medical care

That’s right. The foundation year is not a typo. This German company really does have its roots as far back as the end of the First World War. The initial objective of the company was to provide recent veterans and victims of that war with prosthetic and orthotic tools.

Through the decades, the company has developed partnerships and had several visionaries introducing newer technologies that enhanced the functionality of its prosthetic products even further.

Today, Ottobock provides some of the most advanced mechatronic designs for bionic limbs. The bebionic hand, for example, is a myoelectric bionic hand that can dynamically change to 14 different grip positions, which can even change in force and speed depending on the intensity of the muscle signal sent.

Even more impressive is the Empower ankle, which can automatically readjust its resistance to the ground and optimal foot position to aid the user in maintaining the normal human walking gait.

The Genium X3 leg is a more complete version of the previous concept, combining state-of-the-art sensor technologies and a very robust build so that users can completely abuse the leg in all environments without having to worry about premature malfunctioning.

One major downside to Ottobock is price. Availing the services of this premier, century-long high-tech prosthesis company requires you to pay costs that would buy you a brand new car in other regions of the world.

The Iron Dark Horse: Alt-Bionics

So far we’ve seen Open Bionics tackle the issue of cost, while Ottobock and Esper Bionics try to find their own respective avenues of development. Alt-Bionics is setting up to shake the foundation of the industry by doing a bit of both with its upcoming Genesis Hand.

The functionality of the Genesis Hand is two-way. EMG sensors determine what the user wants (which grip mode is to be activated), while integrated and visual feedback systems provide a rudimentary “sense of touch”, that would allow more natural interaction with the user’s environment. All of its advanced technologies are also projected to be commercially available at a cost of $3,500, which is less than half the price of Open Bionics’ Hero Arm.

As for some of the even more recently established bionic limb companies, there are already a few promising candidates, but as of this article’s writing, their portfolios are still under construction.

Also, we’ve excluded companies Ekso Bionics and ReWalk Robotics as they mostly specialize in developing support-focused robotic exoskeletons, not actual replacement sensor-based prosthetic limbs per se.

Featured image credit by DEKA via DARPA.

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