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Mercedes' bionic man

NEWS STORY
15/08/2011

It started with a letter, albeit a somewhat tongue in cheek letter, and resulted in F1 technology being used to break new ground and leave a youngster very, very happy.

Matthew James, 14, who was born without a left hand, wrote to Ross Brawn, head of the Mercedes F1 team, and who attended the same school as the youngster, asking the German team to contribute 35,000 towards the cost of an artificial limb. In return, the youngster offered the Brackley based outfit space on the limb for its logo.

Moved by Matthew's request, the team joined forces with British company Touch Bionics to create the i-LIMB Pulse, said to be the most advanced prosthetic limb in the world.

''Matthew's letter to the team was very touching," Brawn told the Telegraph. ''It was of particular personal significance given my close relationship to Reading School.

''Looking closely at the i-LIMB Pulse, we realised how much our technologies in Formula One had in common with those used to create this cutting-edge prosthetic limb," he continued. ''We realised we may be able to offer some synergies to Touch Bionics to assist their invaluable research."

The hand, which is made from high-grade plastic with a black silicone socket, plugs into Matthew's arm. Electrodes detect electrical impulses made by the muscles in Matthew's lower arm, the signals transmitted to a mini-computer in the palm which translates the messages into movements.

The hand is 'encased' in an aluminium "chassis-style" casing capable of supporting a load of up to 14st (90kg), each finger powered by an individual motor which allows the digits to move independently. It is even fitted with Bluetooth technology to allow Matthew to hook up to a computer in order to to track the strength and speed of his movements.

'It is just amazing," said the youngster. ''My old artificial hand was not great, it had a pretty basic open close mechanism similar to a clamp. 'But with this one I can do everything, it is just like the real thing. 'It is going to make such a big difference to my life.

''It also looks really cool," he added, "the outer-shell is see through so you can actually see the mechanics working. They are even going to put a little Mercedes badge by the wrist.''

'The hand works by taking instructions from the muscles in the residual limb," said Ruth Burns, spokeswoman for Touch Bionics. "It's a case of a patient practising what muscles trigger the right movements.

''Patients can't sense touch," she continued, "but they can feel vibrations through the hand. 'Most patients find it hard to move the hand at first but Matthew has already progressed to several movements. He is very bright.''

At a time when there is so much negativity in the news, this is a truly heartwarming story. Congratulations to all involved.

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