Touch Bionics, the Livingston-based inventors of the world’s first commercially available bionic hand, the i-LIMB Hand, have won the 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presented the team with a £50,000 prize and the solid gold MacRobert Award medal at the Academy Awards Dinner at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London last night.

The team members sharing the prize are: Chief Executive Officer Stuart Mead, Director of Research and Founder David Gow, Project Manager Stewart Hill, Director of Technology and Operations Hugh Gill, Director of Marketing Phil Newman and Project Coordinator Nicky Holt, all based at Touch Bionics in Livingston.

Many years in development, the i-LIMB Hand is a prosthetic device that looks and acts like a real human hand with five individually powered digits, heralding a new generation in bionics and patient care.

The key innovation behind Touch Bionics’ i-LIMB Hand is the multi-articulating finger technology, which has underpinned the product’s resounding commercial success since its launch. The i-LIMB Hand is developed using leading-edge electronic and mechanical engineering techniques and is manufactured using high-strength plastics. The result is a next-generation prosthetic device that is lightweight, robust and highly appealing to both patients and healthcare professionals.

Ray Edwards is a quadruple amputee who had the i-LIMB hand fitted a month ago and says it has changed his life. Ray survived Hodgkins Disease only to have all four limbs amputated in 1987 after he developed septicaemia. He now runs a construction company customising houses for disabled people and is acting chair of the UK Limbless Association.

“When I first looked down and saw the i-LIMB hand I just cried,” says Ray. “i-LIMB has helped me more psychologically than physically. That was the first time in 21 years that I had seen a hand opening there – it made me feel I was just Ray again. You can do so much with technology but it’s got to make the user happy – and i-LIMB does!”

The i-LIMB Hand started life in 1963 in a research programme at Edinburgh’s Princess Margaret Rose Hospital to help children affected by Thalidomide. Touch Bionic’s core intellectual property is patent-secured and, through the development of the i-LIMB Hand, the company now leads the upper limb prosthetics market in three core areas: cosmesis (skin), controls and mechanical form factor.

“The i-LIMB Hand is one of the most compelling devices in the world prosthetics market,” says Touch Bionics CEO Stuart Mead. “Since we launched it in July 2007 over 200 patients have been fitted with it all over the world – in just a few months it has evolved from an exciting new technology into a new benchmark in prosthetic devices.”

"As a project, it scored very highly on all three of our criteria,” says Dr Geoff Robinson, Chairman of the MacRobert Award Judging Panel. “In addition to many specific innovations in the design and fabrication of the artificial hand, Touch Bionics have fundamentally changed the benchmark for what constitutes an acceptable prosthesis. Their approach to marketing, in what is universally acknowledged to be a difficult market to penetrate, showed a very high standard of focus, commitment and success. The social benefit for those involved must be obvious to everyone. Having tried it myself, I can vouch for the fact that it really does work in the way portrayed, even if one is fortunate enough to still have one's own real hand alongside.”

London's Science Museum will be showcasing the iLIMB prosthetic hand in a special display in the  Antenna science news gallery  The free exhibition runs from Thursday 12 June 2008 for three months. The display will give visitors a unique opportunity to see the prize-winning technology for themselves. The Antenna gallery is devoted entirely to new developments in the fast-moving world of science and technology represented through a series of constantly-updated exhibitions.

See BBC film of the hand in action

Touch Bionics faced tough competition to win the Award – also shortlisted for this year’s MacRobert Award were:

The Automation Partnership, for Polar, a new robotic system designed specifically for the UK Biobank based near Stockport – the world’s leading programme to create a large-scale resource for medical research.

Johnson Matthey, for their compact catalysed soot filter for diesel cars. Following up on their success as the winner of the 2000 MacRobert Award for the Continuously Regenerating Trap® - now the leading technology for controlling soot emissions from trucks and buses - the Johnson Matthey Team have turned their attention to a much more challenging application.

Owlstone Ltd, for their ‘dime’ sized chemical sensor on a silicon chip that provides a miniature detection system for trace amounts of a wide variety of chemicals. Owlstone’s chip can detect explosives at airports, protect workers against gas exposure in heavy industry or detect fires before they begin from precombustion fumes.

Notes for editors

  1. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and up to five team members with a tax-free prize of £50,000 between them. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Senior Fellow of the Academy, takes a close interest in the MacRobert Award and has presented it almost every year since it was created.
  2. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Academy after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry.
  3. This year’s judging panel for the MacRobert Award was as follows:
    Dr Geoffrey Robinson CBE FREng (Chairman)
    Formerly Director of Technology, IBM UK
    Professor John Burland CBE FREng FRS
    Emeritus Professor of Soil Mechanics, Imperial College London
    Professor Haroon Ahmed FREng
    Emeritus Professor of Microelectronics, University of Cambridge, Former Master Corpus Christi College, Higher Education Advisor to the Government of Pakistan
    William Edgar CBE FREng FRSE
    Chairman, European Marine Energy Centre, Chairman, Subsea UK, Visiting Professor in Mechanical Engineering, University of Strathclyde
    Professor Malcolm Mackley FREng
    Professor of Process Innovation, University of Cambridge
    Dr Michael Shears CBE FREng
    Chairman, Arup Trustees, Charter Visiting Professor in Principles of Engineering Design, University of Bristol
    Ian Ritchie CBE FREng FRSE
    Chairman: Interactive University, Sonaptic Ltd, F7 Technology
    John Robinson FREng
    Chairman, Bespak Plc
    Professor Chris Taylor FREng
    Formerly Vice Chancellor and Principal, University of Bradford
    Keith Davis (MacRobert Trustee)
    Director, Engineering Affairs, The Royal Academy of Engineering
    Philip Greenish CBE
    Chief Executive, The Royal Academy of Engineering
  4. The Science Museum’s Wellcome Wing has been made possible by two major benefactions. In the first major lottery award to the sciences, the Heritage Lottery Fund has contributed £23m and, in one of the largest grants ever made to a museum in this country, the Wellcome Trust, the independent medical research charity, has donated £17.75m. Further generous support for the Antenna gallery is provided by Nature.
  5. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at The Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. +44 (0)20 7766 0636

or Danny Sullivan at Touch Bionics, tel. 0141 404 6478