Angel Giuffria’s Twitter profile opens with “Bionic Actress; Congenital Amputee.” She was not in a Hunger Games movie, and is having trouble playing the piano with a prosthetic arm.
She has also just taken delivery of a Bebionic3, the “world’s most advanced prosthetic hand.”
Giuffria was born without a left arm, and says she was the youngest person ever to wear a myoelectric muscle-controlled arm, back when she was only four months old. Now she has a new small-hand Bebionic3, which has features like 14 user-selectable grip patters, individual motors in each finger, proportional speed control which lets you “pick up an egg or hold a polystyrene cup as easily as crushing an empty can,” and a neat 360-degree rotating wrist. Of this last, Giuffria said in a PopSci interview that it “can be helpful, but is more so just a really cool party trick.”
Myoelectric prostheses use electrical signals from the limb they’re attached to to control the bionics. The brain controls our bodies by sending them electrical impulses, and these can be detected on the skin of the leftover arm or leg. This lets the user control the a bionic hand the same way they would their regular hand. Take a look at this Vine from Giuffria, showing her picking up a key.
The problem comes with feedback. Because you can’t feel how hard your fingers are squeezing an object, you have to get used to the hand’s strength. On picking up an egg, Giuffria says “I know how hard I’m pinching, because I’ve pinched that hard before, so it’s kind of like a memory thing.”
The other problem is cost. At launch, the Bebionic cost $11,000, and that isn’t nearly the most expensive arm. Part of this is the custom nature of the arms, which is a cost that could be brought down in the future thanks to 3-D scanning and printing.
The final problem is finish, but this could also be fixed by 3-D printing, with, say, a mirror image version of your remaining hand recreated in a printer. While there will always be people who want to cover up the robot arm with a “glove,” a silicone sleeve a human arm, more and more people love the robot look. Giuffria again, speaking to PopSci:
I never lost a hand—I never had a hand—and I like that I’m different. It’s awesome, so I kind of want to continue to play on that. I love my prosthetics, I love my bionic arm, I like being referred to as a cyborg, I think it’s so much fun and I don’t think I would ever sacrifice the idea of playing up the differences. So I think I’m always going to want some cool technology—you know, a cybernetic arm—rather than going for, you know, the boring fleshy arm.
Sometimes, radically “unnatural” designs can be even better than the limbs they replace. Runner Oscar Pistorius was briefly banned from able-bodied competition when his were to give him an unfair advantage.
And the Hunger Games thing? Giuffria explains it in a tweet:
Giuffria played a character in a hospital who had lost an arm, and her only current IMDB credit is for (tagline: Disarmed and Dangerous). But the Vine above was part of the audition process for upcoming Ben Affleck movie The Accountant, where she gets to play opposite John Lithgow. The movie involves prosthetics, but other than that, Giuffria won’t say what she’s doing in the movie.