A four-year-old boy from the Russian city of St. Petersburg got a life-changing birthday present last week when he was given a functioning prosthetic hand designed to resemble his favourite cartoon hero.
A video of the little boy, Fyodor, using his bright red and yellow prosthetic hand for the first time on his fourth birthday on Friday, shows him picking up objects from a table before turning to beam at the camera.
“He was just delighted as soon as he managed to make the fingers move,” said Ilya Chekh, general director of the Moscow-based startup Motorica, which made the hand.
The prosthesis was made in just one month after Fyodor’s mother Maya got in touch with the company to enquire about a functioning hand for her son. Previously, Fyodor had had a cosmetic prosthesis that he wore just once before abandoning it, according to Motorika, a resident company of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomedicine cluster.
“He didn’t need it, and it wasn’t of interest to him,” said Chekh. The new hand, however, is another story.
“Since it resembles a toy, it’s always with him,” said Chekh.
Fyodor mastered his new prosthesis within minutes of putting it on.
Fyodor was born without fingers on his right hand, but he has movement in his wrist joint. “It was for precisely such cases that we created our prosthesis, so we got to work immediately,” Motorica, which also makes prosthetic limbs for adults, wrote in a report of Fyodor’s story on their website.
The prosthesis was made using a 3D printer and enables Fyodor to grip and hold objects. However, it bears little resemblance to traditional prostheses. Motorica's mission is to change the perception of prosthetic limbs: instead of being seen as medical equipment, it wants them to be seen as modern gadgets that enable kids across Russia to do things they couldn’t before – that turn them, in the company’s words, “into superheroes.”
To achieve this, the company incorporates extra functions into its prostheses, such as a torch, video camera or even a control pad for a remote controlled device. Earlier this year, Motorica – which was founded just one year ago – raised 592,295 rubles ($8,000) via crowdfunding for their project to fit extra gadgets on their prostheses: nearly quadruple their target amount of 150,000 rubles. Fyodor’s hand is equipped with a control pad for a quadcopter, a torch and a soap bubble-blower, and at the request of the little boy and his mother, was made to resemble Roy, a character from the South Korean animated series Robocar Poli.
“We thought it up together,” Fyodor’s mother Maya told LifeNews. “Fedya has a red and yellow toy, Roy,” from the TV show, she explained.
“Every person is an individual, and every one of our prostheses is individual,” Motorica wrote in their report of Fyodor’s story, explaining that the appearance of each one is a separate stage in the planning, and that the company does not make children’s prostheses with cosmetic coverings designed to mask them.
“The main reason for this is that a prosthesis designed in the style of a famous superhero, cartoon character or simply decorated in an unusual way will allow a child to integrate and socialise far better,” says Motorica, arguing that cosmetic prosthetic limbs designed not to stand out are inevitably noticed anyway, and tend to make other people uncomfortable, resulting in them doing their best to simply ignore the person wearing them.
Prostheses designed to resemble a cool gadget or something children love also encourages them to practice wearing and using them, the company believes.
Motorica previously made a pink prosthetic hand fitted with an MP3 player for a little girl named Anya, the company said on its website.
Motorika earlier made a pink hand with an MP3 player for a little girl.
When she went to school wearing it, “the children surrounded her and bombarded her with questions about what it was, how it worked and whether they could try it. Anya was happy to answer their questions and demonstrated how her prosthetic hand worked,” the company said.
Adults, however, have proved to be more conservative in their preferences, opting for the natural look, so Motorica will soon start making cosmetic covers for its adult prostheses, said Chekh.
The speed with which Fyodor’s hand was made was not a special case: on average, it takes just 20 days from taking the measurements to fitting the prosthesis, according to Motorica.
So far, the startup has made prostheses for five children and two adults. Under the Russian health system, people in need of a prosthesis can obtain one – including those made by Motorica – free of charge. In the next month, another four children who already have Motorica prostheses will get updated versions free of charge, said Chekh. Fyodor’s hand should last him for a year, after which he will measured for a new one, he added.
Motorica has a new laboratory at the Skolkovo Innovation Centre, but prostheses made by the company can also be fitted on their new owners by other companies – both private and state – in any region, meaning recipients don’t have to travel across the country.
Motorica is one of several resident companies of the Skolkovo Foundation working in the sphere of prosthetic and bionic limbs and other systems to increase people’s mobility and abilities, including two other companies in the biomedicine cluster.