Ottobock’s Michelangelo Hand is one of the most robust and technologically advanced bionic hands on the market. At around $60,000 USD, it’s also one of the most expensive. Is it worth it? In 2016, the answer to this question would have been “yes” (if you could afford it). But with new, innovative hands entering the market, the competition has stiffened.
A Quick Look at the Michelangelo Hand
In looking for videos on the Michelangelo Hand, we stumbled on a YouTube channel called Myoelectric Outdoors. We love three things about this channel. One, the presenter has extensive long-term experience with many myoelectric hands including the i-Limb, bebionic, Michelangelo, Vincent, and Taska hands, as well as heavy-duty devices like the OttoBock Greifer. Two, he uses these devices across a broad range of activities, including demanding work outdoors. Three, his only objective is to share what he knows to help others.
In this video, he provides a good introduction to Ottobock’s Michelangelo Hand:
Michelangelo Hand’s Key Features
Grip Patterns & Control System
The Michelangelo Hand offers seven grip patterns. This may seem low compared to the competition, but recent studies on grip pattern usage have changed our view on this subject. It turns out that most users only use a few key grips. One study, which we’ll be reviewing in-depth in another article, found that users employed one primary grip roughly 75% of the time. As a result, we don’t view the Michelangelo Hand’s small number of grips to be a limitation.
What’s important is how well a bionic hand executes each grip, which is a function of its sensors, control system, and electromechanics.
Ottobock claims that the Michelangelo Hand is superior to its competitors in these key areas. Based on a combination of videos, online comments, and excerpts from a few small studies, it appears to us that they are telling the truth. Users seem to derive more daily satisfaction with the Michelangelo Hand than any other hand on the market when it comes to intuitive control. This doesn’t mean that the Michelangelo Hand is the best myoelectric hand for all tasks. It just means that it seems to have a superior control system.
For reference, here’s a look at the Michelangelo Hand’s seven grip patterns:
Electronically Positioned Thumb
For many years, the Michelangelo Hand was the only bionic hand that automatically rotated the thumb into position for different grips. By position, we mean either opposing certain fingers or not opposing them.
This is important because some grips require an opposing thumb, while others require the thumb to lie alongside the hand to essentially get out of the way.
In the absence of electronic control, the user must manually rotate the thumb into position before using a specific grip.
Why is this important? It’s mainly a convenience factor. Using any prosthesis can be tiring, and having a thumb take care of its own positioning is one less thing to worry about.
This used to be one of the Michelangelo Hand’s primary advantages over its competitors, but, in recent years, other myoelectric hands have introduced similar features.
Proportional Speed Control
This refers to the ability of the user to control the speed and force of the grip via the speed and force of the muscle signal used to close or open the bionic hand.
As you can see in the first video at the top of this post, the Michelangelo Hand offers a very precise level of proportional speed control. Note, however, that the user must rely on visual guidance to achieve this.
An alternative is to provide sensory feedback via pressure sensors in the fingers. We believe this is a superior method because it more accurately mimics the way that humans transition from visual guidance to touch as they begin to handle an object. The Psyonic Ability Hand is the only commercially available myoelectric hand to offer this capability so far.
Active Wrist Rotation
If you have ever watched someone use a bionic hand without a flexible, powered wrist, you will notice that they often exert a lot of shoulder and elbow effort trying to correctly position the hand, as shown in this video:
Note, this is not a criticism of the arm/hand shown in this video – the Hero Arm from Open Bionics. The Hero Arm is an incredibly effective device that sells for 1/4 the cost of a Michelangelo Hand. Nonetheless, you can see that not having a powered wrist can make things a bit awkward.
Here, by comparison, is food preparation with the Michelangelo Hand. As you can see, the movements are much more fluid:
Lift Capacity & Grip Strength
The Michelangelo Hand is not a heavy-duty hand. Its maximum carrying capacity is only 20 kg. This is less than half the carrying capacity of competitors like Ottobock’s beBionic Hand and Psyonic’s Ability Hand, and less than 1/4 of Ossur’s i-Limb titanium models.
Its push-off capacity (i.e. using a closed fist to push oneself up) is only 60 kg, which means that most full-grown men cannot put all their weight on the hand’s knuckles.
Lastly, its maximum grip force is only 70 newtons. This is the typical grip strength used in daily activities, but it is roughly half the maximum grip force of both the i-Limb and the bebionic Hand.
What does all this mean? It means you should plan on using the Michelangelo Hand for light duties only, i.e. mainly tasks inside the house and/or at the office.
We looked far and wide for consistent complaints about durability with the Michelangelo Hand, and we simply couldn’t find them.
In one of the Myoelectric Outdoors videos, the narrator did tell a story of how he fell on his Michelangelo Hand once and it cost him $2,200 to repair, but that might have happened with most bionic hands. More important from our perspective is that we couldn’t find any similar stories.
Also, whenever we encountered reports of durability problems in various formal studies of myoelectric hands, the Michelangelo Hand seemed to have the fewest complaints.
Our conclusion, therefore, is that as long as you use the hand as intended — for light-duties only — it is among the most reliable on the market.
We once again apologize for not having official pricing information. We hope to remedy this soon.
Our best guess is that the Michelangelo Hand has a final net price in excess of $60,000 USD. To see how this compares to other bionic hands, check our Bionic Hand Price List.
Considerations Before Buying the Michelangelo Hand
The first consideration is obviously price, i.e. can you afford to spend $60,000 USD on a bionic hand? The second is, can you limit the hand’s use to light-duties only?
If the answer to both these questions is “yes”, then we think the Michelangelo Hand is still the best myoelectric hand on the market. It offers the most intuitive control system and seems to have the fewest durability issues.
But if you need to perform heavy-duty tasks on occasion, then you have two choices. The first is to buy an additional device, like a heavy-duty electric clamp or hook, so you can switch devices as needed. This is evident not only from the first video in this post but also from the following video by Christoffer Lindhe. Although his multi-function hand is the bebionic, the principle is the same: experienced users of bionic hands use multiple devices.
The main drawback of this approach is cost. Buying and maintaining multiple devices can get expensive.
But what if you require a multi-function hand that is only moderately more robust than the Michelangelo Hand? For example, a hand for yard maintenance or inside shop work?
For the former, we’d recommend Taska’s hand. It’s not only rugged but also waterproof, and it sells for roughly half the price of a Michelangelo Hand.
For more rigorous inside work, we’d recommend looking at the Psyonic Ability Hand, especially with its pressure sensor feedback.
Both the Taska and Psyonic hands are also excellent options if budget is an issue.
Finally, provided it gets FDA approval (scheduled for the end of 2020), BrainCo’s Dexus Prosthetic Hand offers mind control over each individual digit — a control system that may prove superior to that of the Michelangelo Hand. Early reports are that the Dexus will sell for less than $20,000 USD.
For more information on upper limb bionics, see Understanding Bionic Arms & Hands.
If you are shopping for a bionic hand, do not miss our article on Myoelectric Control Systems. Getting this part of your bionic system right is probably the biggest single ingredient in your long-term satisfaction.
Click here for more information on Ottobock Upper Limb Prosthetics.