Watchdog post - media idiocy hyping up prosthetic fairytales [update]

We all know that there are two worlds with respect to prostheses - unfortunately there is often only a minimal overlap:

  • The reality.
  • The media.

In reality and by and large - with some isolated exceptions -, current body powered prosthetics is 1940s technology sold for dream prices and breaks after 6 weeks, while myoelectric technology essentially sells 1970s technology for insanely astronomic prices and that stuff breaks sooner. In essence, whatever arm you get, it's an absolute nightmare. Check out the bolt odyssey or the battery joke (those are just examples).

In typical media hypes, prostheses are glorified as "bionic" (while for hands, for example, there are just some interference prone loudly squeaking motors with an open/close function such as prosthetic hands use to do since ~300 years, with a ~700 USD bad ass battery that runs for ~3-5 hours) or "thought controlled" (bwahahaha).

There is one thing I don't get. It is definitely not these authors' domains they are writing about. Quite obviously they do not know shit from shinola. So what on earth makes these people believe they should type up stuff that perpetuates myths? Is is that they think disabled people are unable to write for themselves? Is it that they believe we need to be patronized by their seemingly never-ending 'fairytales of imagination and error' What attitude is behind these writings? We will have to take the subject serious so to start off, this is the newly appointed shame wall where I will now expose some of the idiots that perpetuate these myths. Because these myths are dangerous.

What is there to know?

  • Bionics is the application of natural principles to engineering solutions. In context of the iLimb or the Michelangelo hand however, we see two myoelectric electrodes (one for open, one for close) and a hand mechanism that by and large opens and closes. Nature imitation does not go further than that in what is the latest what the industry tries to sell. That is what prosthetic hands did already at the time of the Goetz von Berlichingen - they're not more bionic than that. To now call these prostheses bionic is similar to calling a fast car 'aeronautic' - it's simple overadvertising. Of course that is done - the companies offering these products sell minimal technical performance for a maximal price. So at best, these prostheses are 'buy-onic'.
  • The non-disabled public is clearly distressed when dealing with disability. It's a reality we need to understand. Acting as if improvements were made is essential for the well being of many non-disabled people. Many people I know say 'there is so much being done'. Pustekuchen! I would make that feeling dependent on actual improvements - not on media hype. In other words: before one would be allowed to feel good about prosthetic improvements these improvements would have to be there. Yet these are times when I hear that people using Otto Bock's latest SensorHand Speed are annoyed by that feature and switch it off; when people wearing a TouchBionics' iLimb hand can't even rip a popcorn bag open; when people cannot get their apparently high quality batteries replaced because they are too expensive. These are times when media and advertising are far beyond reality. I am not being negative! Things are being done, eventually and hopefully - but it looks like the disability community is forced to do that by themselves.

There is danger in accepting these media hypes. These myths are a direct threat and offense to amputees.As Jon Kuniholm stated ever so correctly: these myths effectively are in the way of getting real funding to do real prosthetic research. And don't believe TouchBionics or Otto Bock that they improve anyone's life with upper extremity prosthetics unless you have actually seen that happening directly. And don't forget - these products go for just about twice as much as the price of a Taxi (yes I mean the whole damned car).

There is another danger: the industry has a tendency to believe that they are indeed successful. The market is just so entirely skewed. Yes yes - any amputee's eyes will glow with joy over a new product! Don't ever take that personal though. If you wear an iLimb, or a modern Otto Bock hand, the first ten minutes will be great! But so will be the first ten minutes of wearing a cosmetic arm, hook, prehensor or bunch of flowers. It's what comes afterwards you need to consider. Does your product degrade gracefully or does its failure embarrass your client? Is your product really offering relevant improvements in the domain of ADL (activities of daily living)? If not, how on earth will you make plausible that insurances pay for it? If insurances don't happily cover it, how big or saturated do you think the market is for privately paying amputees - given the actual performance of your product? Why do clients stop wearing these gadgets all the time? Wouldn't continuous usage be what would be necessary for you to call that good business? Stop believing in any apparent greatness of these 'bionic' prostheses and start to get real!

Now, time to strike back and call these people what they are, name by name.

With a Michelangelo hand, you can peel Bananas using brain control (Mit der Michelangelo-Hand kann man per Gedankenkraft Bananen schälen)

You can as much control an Otto Bock Michelangelo hand using brain control as you can wipe your butt using brain control. You can as much control a Michelangelo hand using brain control as you can stare at your computer screen and make it levitate.

In other words, you can't.

If I wear two myoelectric electrods on my arm, and if I activate what remains of these muscles, the muscle ends tear on the tendon stumps. These in turn tear on my bone stumps and after 1/2 an hour I get an inflammation there. Then, stump pain and minutes later phantom pains explode. *That* is about how much 'thought controlled' the Michelangelo hand really is.

And that is how qualified the journalists really are that comment on what they believe is 'thought' controlled.

Full concept ignorance: 5/5
How a stump works ignorance 5/5
How a prosthesis works ignorance 5/5.

Twitter post by e-Patient Dave

Dave deBronkart@ePatientDave 27 Oct 11 I'm so so so inspired by the amazing achievements of Dean Kamen's DEKA research - HELL of a better prosthetic arm than "hook & pole" #tedmed

Hook and pole? What did that individual do to come up with this "assessment". Surely, he has no idea about working towards and wearing a well built body powered arm.  And in the age of idea-powered societies, this spells out as fail. The stereotypical pirate hook. Stupid and ignorant does not quite nail it, as the reality is probably worse.

Full concept ignorance: 5/5.Intelligence of remark generally: 1/5.
Intelligence of remark in specific: 1/5.
Creativity: 1/5.

Bionic Legs, i-Limbs, and Other Super Human Prosheses You'll Envy

"Prosheses". Super Human Grammar You'll Envy. Pfffrt :) But it gets even more idiotic. The Fast Company strikes, some people that lack understanding cite his works as "that is where we are headed" [360].

Paul Hochman writes "Because the new machines -- and they are machines -- are becoming so lustrous and so efficient that some people are already willing to chop off a perfectly good limb to get one." Of course that, now, well, but, there is a mental disorder called Xenomelia, Apotemnophilia or Body Identity Integrity Disorder - a problem Paul conveniently seems to ignore. No one will ever want to lose their hand for a prosthesis. Ever. For this entirely brain depleted arrogance, someone should beat him around the office all day. Better, all week. This is so shitty, it cannot be apologized.

At the end, Hugh Herr is cited saying "So why do you anticipate 30 years from now that amputees will give a shit about human beauty? They won't. Their limbs will be sculptures."

D'oh. Obviously they missed we already do artwork. 30 year ahead of Paul's plan. I'm painting the town blue inasmuch as my prosthetic parts are concerned - and Dan Horkey's building sand castles on the beach front of prosthetic appearances. And so are many others, including Aimee Mullins and Jacques Monestier.

So this man-machine type author (half yoghurt, half coffee cup) that came up with that gibberish is Paul Hochman [facebook|fast company|twitter|linked in]. He called himself a 'gear guy'. Maybe he is also a brain surgeon, astronaut or fairy tale teller?

My guess is he should take lessons. Urgently ;)

Idiocy level: 5/5
Hype level: 5/5
Grammar distortion of relevant 'kee' words 4/5
Art ignorance: 5/5
Detail ignorance: 4/5 (they missed out mentioning the Smart Hand, the Michelangelo and the DEKA arm projects).

Re-check 2013: They finally corrected the mistyped title of their article. Also they deleted all of our comments. What they should have done was work with a psychiatrist to correct the mistyped complete article. But then that must be Paul Hochman and how he is. - So, the Fast Company journalists do seem to have a problem with cogent critique. They deleted my first critical comment that also was backed up by Jon Kuniholm at the time. Really, we (not them) nail it with regard to prosthetic arms these days. So I took liberty to critique their article again - deleting really relevant comments by users should invite a reaction. From that experience I would assume that the Fast Company should be monitored close for hyped distortions, far closer than so far.

Re-posted critique:

Your article posts projections that are not even close. They are not reality at all. You pretend things you have not the faintest idea about. Reality is that you can wear whatever prosthetic arm you want - none, low tech, high price - and you STILL will be an amputee, you will have the same exact social problems no matter what, and change is not in sight. It is honorable to see you team up with Hugh Herr whose job it is to get funding for his academic projects - but arm amputees have been the butt of industry hypes since the Carnes arm. All arms are too expensive, too heavy, lacking function and integration with the human body. No body prosthesis interface really works - osseointegration bolts break and draw infections like nothing else. Sockets slip, cause skin problems, restrict motion, can be uncomfortable. Skin electrodes are not too reliable, and their function degrades once you sweat. Multi-articulated hands suck batteries empty like nothing else; sufficient power is heavy. These hands are fragile, their motors are loud. The whole idea of prostheses being anywhere near to even a minimal real hand function is entirely ludicrous. But in the future, we read elsewhere, robots will have empathy. Maybe we can put two and two together and get robots to type articles about amputees and their prosthetic problems. Then we would not have to read texts such as this.

Artificial arm with sensory feedback, brain-controlled

We read that a "brain-controlled" arm (reality check: it's a myoelectric arm) is built by Otto Bock and that touching the hand "feels just like touching a real hand" (reality check: there is some minimal electric feedback).

I wish the author, Thomas Meissner, was more brain-controlled there, but maybe he is myo-electric too, and no adequate sensory feedback. And then they wonder why they keep selling less and less print issues.

Absence of brain control: 5/5
Absence of real touch: 4/5
Hype level: 5/5
Detail ignorance: 5/5 (he missed out mentioning the Smart Hand, the iLimb, Michelangelo and the DEKA arm projects).

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: - Watchdog post - media idiocy hyping up prosthetic fairytales [update]; published 21/01/2010, 23:40; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1638807872, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{ - Watchdog post - media idiocy hyping up prosthetic fairytales [update]}}, month = {January}, year = {2010}, url = {} }