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A Mechanical Prosthetic Close to the Real Thing

Back to the future, almost literally. Dan Didrick of Naples, Florida, has come up with a fascinating alternative for those who have lost their fingers, almost one in 150 persons do lose a digit , it is estimated.

Didricks X-finger is back to the future because it has no batteries, electronics, servos or actuators. Instead, each digit incorporates a simple mechanism which, when pushed by the surviving part of the wearer's finger, curls a set of artificial phalanges.

'Having a body-powered device leaves little room for mechanical failure,' Didrick said, adding that there aren't any robotic medical alternatives.

Made of steel and blue plastic, Didrick's X-Finger allows for a surprising degree of dexterity: Enough to grip (and swing) a golf club, operate a keyboard or even play musical instruments.

When the wearer bends the remaining portion of his or her finger, the tight fit causes it to depress a lever on the X-Finger, articulating the device in proportion to the pressure exerted.

The precision mechanism guides the digit's movements to match those of adjacent fingers, creating an uncannily realistic prosthesis where it counts most: mobility, power and accuracy.

In May, Didrick was awarded second prize in the History Channel's Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge, beating thousands of other entries to claim a $5,000 award.

The X-Finger, which currently costs thousands of dollars per digit, might seem expensive to prospective buyers. But it's not a get-rich-quick scheme for its inventor: Didrick, 37, sold his house, his Porsche and many of his personal possessions to help fund development, and he draws only a modest salary from sales of his invention.

'We only receive a fraction of the overall costs ourselves,' Didrick said. 'Also, many people would be surprised to learn that a cosmetic silicone artificial finger, offering only passive function, with no mechan ical structure, can cost $5,500 from an anaplastologist.'

Manufacturing is currently taken care of by a firm in California, but it is able to make only a few fingers a week. Investment will expedite production, Didrick hopes.

The finger, however, is only the beginning. Didrick is already working on an entire hand articulated in similar fashion using the wrist, and has been approached to craft toes using the same principle.

'Our new approach to prosthetic technology will have a significant impact, not only on the thousands of lives it will change, but also to spark the ingenuity of our youth to develop new technologies for the future.'


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