Ottobock’s Michelangelo Hand is one of the most robust and technologically advanced bionic hands on the market. At $60,000 to $70,000 US, it’s also one of the most expensive. The question is: is it worth it?
What’s On This Page?
- A Quick Look at the Michelangelo Hand
- Grip Patterns & Control System
- Thumb Rotation
- Proportional Speed Control
- Auto Grip
- Sensory Feedback
- Wrist Design
- Lift Capacity & Grip Strength
- Water and Dust Resistance
- Glove Options
- User Software
- Suitability for Above-the-Elbow Solutions
- User Feedback Survey & Results
- Considerations Before Buying a Michelangelo Hand
- Related Information
A Quick Look at the Michelangelo Hand
In looking for videos on the Michelangelo, 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 the Michelangelo:
Grip Patterns & Control System
The Michelangelo Hand offers seven grip patterns. This may seem low compared to the competition but studies on grip patterns show that most users only use a few key grips. One study found that users employed one primary grip roughly 75% of the time. As a result, we don’t view the Michelangelo’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 is superior to its competitors in these key areas. Based on a combination of videos, online comments, and excerpts from a few small studies, they appear to be telling the truth. Users seem to derive more daily satisfaction with the Michelangelo than any other hand on the market when it comes to intuitive control. This doesn’t mean that the Michelangelo 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’s seven grip patterns:
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 running parallel to them.
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, so having a thumb take care of its own positioning is one less thing to worry about.
This used to be one of the Michelangelo’s key 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.
The auto grip feature is one where a bionic hand senses that an object is slipping from its grasp so it automatically increases its grip force to compensate and avoid dropping the object.
To our knowledge, the Michelangelo does not yet offer this feature.
Some bionic hands provide sensory feedback via pressure sensors in the fingers. This helps the user grasp an object without having to visually guide every detail.
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, which does offer a flexible, powered wrist. 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 1/2 the carrying capacity of Ottobock’s beBionic 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 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 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 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.
Water and Dust Resistance
The Michelangelo is neither waterproof nor dustproof. If you need to use the hand in wet or dirty environments, you must do so using one of its glove options. Note, however, that small tears in a glove can expose the hand to water damage in particular.
Ottobock offers gloves in six different skin tones for the Michelangelo. These gloves are made from multi-layer PVC that the manufacturer claims is highly durable. However, we have heard anecdotal reports that the gloves are less durable than promised.
The Michelangelo Hand uses Ottobock’s AxonEnergy Integral power system. The charging time for this system is roughly 3.5 hours. Fully charged, the hand can be used for up to 20 hours.
As is the case with most bionic limbs, the hand should be recharged each night.
The Michelangelo is controlled by the AxonBus System. This system does provide setup and configuration software (AxonSoft) for clinicians but not for end-users.
Suitability for Above-the-Elbow Solutions
The Michelangelo Hand can be used as a component in above-the-elbow solutions. However, to our knowledge, it can only be used with Ottobock’s Ergo, Ergo Plus, or Hybrid elbows.
Based on user feedback, the Michelangelo Hand has a final net price of between $60,000 and $70,000 US for a typical, below-the-elbow solution.
For a complete list of prices for other bionic hands, please see our Bionic Hand Price List.
The Michelangelo comes with a standard 24-month warranty against material and manufacturing defects.
Users can also pay to extend the warranty for up to an additional three years.
User Feedback Survey & Results
Are you currently using the Michelangelo Hand or have you used it in the past?
If so, why not help others by sharing your experiences in this quick survey:
We do not yet have a sufficient number of survey participants to publish fair and accurate results for the Michelangelo.
As soon as we do, we’ll update this section.
Considerations Before Buying the Michelangelo Hand
The first consideration is obviously price, i.e. can you afford to spend $60,000 to $70,000 US 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 one of the best myoelectric hands on the market. It offers an 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? 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 that it gets FDA approval, the 8-channel version of the BrainRobotics Prosthetic Hand offers mind control over each individual digit — a control system that may prove superior to that of the Michelangelo — at a much lower price.
For a list of competitor devices, see All Bionic Hands.
For a complete description of all current upper-limb technologies, devices, and research, see our comprehensive guide.
If you are shopping for a bionic hand, do not miss our article on Bionic Arm & Hand 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.