Is TrueLimb a Bionic Arm?

A bionic arm user.

Before you read any further, here’s the quick answer: Yes, TrueLimb is a bionic arm. The truth is, almost all powered prosthetic arms are bionic arms. So what, exactly, is a bionic arm? What sets them apart from other prosthetic arms? 

To understand what makes a prosthetic arm “bionic,” it helps to get an overview of the current upper limb prosthetic landscape. But first, let’s get a greater understanding of what the word “bionic” means.

According to Mirriam-Webster, bionic is defined as “having normal biological capability or performance enhanced by or as if by electronic or electromechanical devices.” It first appeared in the year 1960 as a portmanteau of the words “biology” and “electronic.” 

With that definition in mind, you might think that all prosthetic devices are bionic. Below, we’ll take a quick look at the varieties of prostheses available, and render a verdict on whether they can be classified as bionic or not. 

 

Passive

Passive prostheses mostly exist for cosmetic purposes. Designed to resemble the human form as much as possible, their appearance can be very realistic. However, what they have in appearance, they lack in function. With no mechanics or working parts, at best they serve as a counter-support when handling light objects. Passive prostheses are ideal for amputees who prioritize aesthetics. 

Verdict: Not a bionic arm

A passive prosthetic arm.

Body-Powered

Often referred to as hook arms, body-powered prostheses rely on a system of cables and harnesses to operate a simple open and close mechanism in place of a hand. As the name implies, these limbs operate by body movement — usually an opposing limb or shoulder. 

There are many advantages to body-powered upper limbs. They never run out of battery life, there are no electronics that can malfunction, and they are inexpensive compared to the majority of advanced upper limb prostheses. However, both their appearance and functionality may leave much to be desired. The hook hand executes a simple open and close movement, and the hook itself is not aesthetically pleasing. 

Due to their relative affordability, body-powered prosthetic arms are popular within the pediatric population, who will inevitably outgrow their devices. While they do enable greater capabilities, their appearance can draw negative attention. This is unfortunate, as the benefit of an opposing limb is especially important for young people. 

Verdict: Not a bionic arm

A body-powered prosthetic arm.

Myoelectric

Myoelectric-powered prosthetic arms rely on electricity generated by muscle movement in the residual limb to operate a robotic hand and arm. Electronic sensors within a socket that the residual limb inserts into control these upper limb prostheses. The user must maintain skin contact with these sensors so they can sense the myoelectric power generated by the muscle. They resemble human anatomy, but are not as realistic as passive prostheses. 

They can have a more human-like appearance and provide greater comfort. However, they usually weigh more due to the machinery and battery that the arms contain. 

Verdict: Bionic arm

A myoelectric prosthetic arm.

Multi-Articulating 

These advanced prostheses are often myoelectrically powered, but they have far greater capabilities. This is the category that is most often referred to as “bionic,” and also where TrueLimb fits into the landscape. Hands can perform multiple grips, come with movable thumbs, and some can even provide force feedback so users have a sense of touch. 

While most multi-articulating prostheses have limited battery life, weigh more, and cost significantly more, TrueLimb avoids these drawbacks. Not only does TrueLimb weigh an ultralight 1.5 lbs. and come with multi-day battery life, it is by far the most affordable bionic arm available. This affordability unlocks advanced prosthetics for the masses, and is an especially exciting option for children, who can upgrade annually for 50% off. 

Verdict: Bionic arm

This is what a bionic arm looks like.

TrueLimb is a multi-articulating prosthetic arm.