Ted Varley On: The Wonder of Hands
Back in 2013, Ted Varley gave a talk in Montpellier about hands and what it takes to recreate one as a designer. He commenced his address by marveling at the wonder that is the human hand and its extraordinary capabilities in strength and function.
For as long as humans have been using tools to overcome the challenges of everyday life, prosthetic hands or their functional equivalents have existed. Although, it wasn’t until Roman general Marcus Sergius’ metal hand was uncovered that we began to appreciate the psychological benefit of lifelike hands resembling the form of our human five-fingered extremities, in addition to the functional element supporting the undertaking of everyday tasks (in Sergius’ case, he manned his shield with his!)
However, recreating the human hand with a cornucopia of skills literally at its fingertips is certainly no easy feat. Even with today’s technology and decades of research, spurred on by wars that rendered many veterans amputated, it is a highly complex operation to achieve the perfect balance between compliant functionality with the importance of a device being recognizably hand-like.
In the 1960s, myoelectric technology made some headway by enabling users, equipped with a three-jaw chuck mechanism (kinda looked like a claw with a fleshy glove) that they could control using electrode sensors attached to their remaining limb, essentially unlocking the ability to grip. It is only in the past decade that multi-articulating hands have been developed, equipped with a number of different grip pattern functions, inevitably improving the user experience. However, as Ted points out in his speech, prosthetic technology still has a long way to go in terms of reducing breakability, increasing function, and developing sensory feedback.
Having said this, since Ted gave his Designing Hands talk in France, he and the team he led made huge milestones in developing the bebionic hand and was able to address an issue that he described as being a long way away. Within two years, the bebionic small hand was commercially released which enabled women with upper-limb differences to experience the device, as its highly compact design made it much more compatible and better proportioned to the average female hand. In doing this, they doubled the number of people they were able to help, and from there it didn’t take long for the bebionic hand to become the household name of myoelectric hand technology around the world.
To say that COVVI is grateful to have Ted as our Technical Director is quite the understatement. Not simply for his decades of design and engineering experience, but because he represents the attitude and passion that prosthetics manufacturers should have for the betterment of the lives of individuals with upper-limb differences.
Having a leader that continually inspires us to be constantly evolving our ideas and designs, according to what it is that the end-user actually needs and wants, in addition to technical expertise that informs them is a rare and wonderful thing. We hope to instill this spirit into everyone who comes through COVVI as a member of the team, a user, a partner, a clinician, or even curious onlookers.