During the 8 years of the war, Ukraine gained enormous experience in limb prosthetics. Until recently, it was believed that in order to get high-quality prosthetics, it was necessary to go abroad, but Ukrainians began to introduce dozens of foreign technologies and develop their own.
Thanks to that ukrainian fighters can get prostheses that not only provide the highest degree of mobility, but also surprise with technology, such as – then bionic hands. In this material, I have collected several ambitious startups in the field of prosthetics, which will soon make the lives of hundreds of Ukrainians completely comfortable.
Vlada takes the bottle with a bionic hand and takes a sip of water. She is almost used to the fact that her hand understands what she is going to do and chooses the right grip, because her prosthesis has intuitive control.
“- The grip number one is two fingers, when I squeeze them, I can take some small parts, all kinds of things, squeeze them, put them. 01.23 This is three fingers, for larger objects. This is for a bottle – for taking a bottle or a glass or a bag of juice, it’s a very cool grip, I like it a lot, one of my favorites” – the girl shares her impressions.
The main method of controlling the bionic prosthesis is carried out with the help of two myo-bio sensors located in the receiver. These sensors read how the muscles of the stump contract and perform the movement of the robotic prosthesis.
“- Two small activation of muscles means that the user wants to change the grip and the grip will be changed in some direction. For example, long activation of muscles means that the user wants to open the grip or to close the grip. And by this way the user controls the prosthetic hand – by different activations of different muscles” – says COO at Esper Bionics Anna Believantseva.
At the same time, the robo-hand can be controlled by using an application, where a user can set any settings – from the prosthesis control schemes, to adjusting the grips, their order, etc. It takes about 2-3 weeks to learn to control such a hand, and Esper Bionics products are currently being tested by 9 volunteers, both in Ukraine and in the United States.
“- The main reason why the user wants to use the prosthetic hand is a socialization problem. It is not about functionality, it’s about socialization. They want to be confident. They don’t want to catch this look from strangers when you walk in through the street or in the metro” – explains Believantseva.
The co-founder of Esper Bionics adds: when our users, for example, are in a bus, and they want to grab some object, to hold themselves, and they want to make it easily, they want to make it very natural. And that’s why control is very-very important for them.
“- When I walked with a cosmetic hand, it was morally stressful, because everyone looked, discussed something, asked. And now I just walk with my head held high, with my hand raised up, because everyone who looks is like: “wow, iron woman!”. It’s great to notice these looks, and not ask for help at some points, but just do everything yourself” – shares her impressions Vlada.
Esper Bionics is an American startup with Ukrainian roots. The team started in Kyiv with three co-founders: Anna Belevntseva, Dmytro Gazda, and Igor Ilchenko, and now, being in New York, the startup has expanded to 23 specialists, from both Ukraine and the USA.
This year, their robot hand became famous around the world, when the team won an award from one of the biggest design competitions Red Dot.
“- Now the main players on our market are focusing on hardware features, mainly to make this hant waterproof or very strong or something about external look. And we are focusing on software. Of course our hand is very well designed. Because we are focusing on anatomical design on anatomical look. So the prosthetic end is very similar to our natural hand” – notes Anna Believantseva.
Today, the startup cooperates with four prosthetic clinics in the USA and is in constant contact with several clinics in Ukraine. As soon as their prosthesis is presented on the market, the team plans to supply its products to Ukraine as well.
“- We really want to help Ukrainians with our products and we can do it because unfortunately there is a great demand for our product right now in Ukraine” – states the co-founder of Esper Bionics.
According to Anna Belevantseva, the price will be about $7000 for a hand without any merger. It’s like the manufacturing cost of one hand.
“- We don’t want to earn money at this and this is the price we propose to prosthetic clinics with different initiatives to work with. I think compared with the price for similar devices abroad it’s about twice or several times lower than the price for different devices” – explaines Believantseva.
Two powerful bionic hand manufacturing companies, such as Esper Bionics, are currently operating in Ukraine. At the same time, the government implemented programs to install bionic prostheses, which the Ukrainian militaries has been using since 2015.
“- The state says: we provide you for the first year: you will have a mechanical and cosmetic hand, after a year you submit an application to the commission on the feasibility of installing a mio-bio arm. Because it costs millions there – the components themselves” – says director of the center of prosthetics, orthotics and rehabilitation “Without Limits” Andriy Ovcharenko.
He explains: a year after operation the government gives a bio. Why a year, what is going on with the stabilization of the anthropometric data of the stump – the postoperative swelling disappears, in a year, it will stabilize and it makes sense to install sensors there.
However, Esper Bionics’ robot-hand is only the first step on the path of this progressive team, the startup plans to start developing a bionic leg already next year. The improvement of the technology of lower limb prostheses does not lag behind the development of robotic hands.
Nagender Parashar, a native of India who has lived in Ukraine for more than 30 years, conducts a tour of the factory where parts for modern prostheses are made. Then he shows how the finished product looks like – Nageneder’s personal pride.
“- That is a knee joint we make completely in our factory, it is designed here by me, and here are machines, where we make the complete knee joint” – shows Nagender Parashar.
His story began in 2008, when one partner suggested to Nagender that he should start delivering parts for prosthetics from Hong Kong. Later, he thought about setting up his own production.
“- I used to face the issues with the quality. And I was very ashamed of what I’m bringing. So, once I said “enough”, I said “Ok, I will make them in Ukraine”. And quality will depend on me. I took the machine to a rent and hired a person who knew how to work on these machines. And then we started making some simple adapters” – remembers Nagender Parashar.
In 14 years, Nagender went from one machine to an entire factory. Today, he has at his disposal the best machines for the production and testing of details.
“Prosthetic device testing is very expensive. We have to test a foot. That’s a foot and that’s a heel and that’s a toe, so we have to test 3 million times like that and 3 million times like that” – says Nagender Parashar.
According ti Nagender, If you cycle for once in a second it takes 35 days non-stop. If you work only at the working hours, then you can go for months for testing and you have only one machine so you tested for a few months.
During all this time, Nagender learned to make knee joints of an international level, which are already widely used in Ukraine. However, in the conditions of the purely Ukrainian market, it is difficult for such an enterprise to stay afloat.
“- We cannot survive completely in Ukraine, but we have started in Ukraine and this knee-joint is produced only in 2 countries in the world: Japan and Germany. And we are the third. Right now we are not exporting anything, because these products are very new. And then we will introduce them to the world and Ukraine. They are already used by people, and they are happy’ – emphasizes Parashar.
These two stories: Nagender`s factory and Esper Bionics robot-hand clearly demonstrate that Ukraine has the necessary talents to create a prosthetics business of the highest level. For a long time, people with amputations, in order to receive the appropriate quality of service, chose for themselves the option of going abroad: either to Germany or to the United States.
However, since 2014 – from the moment of Russia’s first aggression against independent Ukraine, the quality of prosthetics has increased so much that in some ways the quality of Ukrainian prostheses even surpasses foreign prostheses.
“In 2015, we installed prostheses on boys, and they went to Austria, and the Austrians could not believe that it was made in Ukraine. The level of manufacturing, production and quality in Ukraine is constantly increasing, our potential is very large. Companies enter with technologies and specialists improve their qualifications” – says prosthetics engineer, director of LLC “Ortotech-Service” Oleksandr Stetsenko.
Obviously, due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, the demand for such products is simply insane. However, the biggest problem is that this industry in Ukraine is not yet sufficiently financed.
“Since 2017, the Ministry of Social Policy has not recalculated the cost of products. There is inflation, changes in rent, salary. We try to sit on two chairs: to survive and to provide the victims with prosthetic and orthopedic products” – adds Stetsenko.
At the same time, the state allowed the market of prosthetics to float freely, allowing both public and private companies to provide prosthetics, which significantly improved the situation.
“The state said: okay, there can be private enterprises and there can be state enterprises, here you have the same conditions of existence and enterprises have a feature that everyone must develop. Integrating technology into life – the state has taken this step. Don’t go there, come to us, because we have such a hand” – notices Ovcharenko.
In order for Ukraine to become a world leader in the prosthetics business, it is necessary to attract investments and look for foreign partners. The state should launch new effective programs that would be beneficial both to manufacturers of prosthetics and beneficial to the prosthetics market. All other prerequisites are already in place in Ukraine.
“With the products that we have now, we are already a leader of the market, just the world doesn’t know about that. But it’s not something that needs to be tested – it’s a working product and only 2 other countries make it. So we have even more knee joints coming to produce, so we’ll go out very soon, And the world will know that we can do very good things” – concludes Nagender Parashar.