B.C. man hopes bionic hand will earn him gold at 'Cyborg Olympics'
BURNABY, B.C. -- Bionic body parts used to be the stuff of science fiction and ’70s TV, but a high-tech hand is helping a Paralympian train for his second “Olympics.”
Danny Letain, who competed in the 1992 Paralympic Winter Games, will be using a bionic breakthrough by a Simon Fraser University team to shoot for the podium again.
This time Letain is training for the 2016 Cybathlon, the first “Cyborg Olympics.” He will be wearing the first-of-its kind bionic hand created by SFU researchers and a Vancouver prosthetics company. The hand uses pressure sensors to respond to tiny muscle movements in the arm.
The Canadian team, dubbed M.A.S.S. Impact or Mass Activity Sensor Strip, will compete against eight teams in an obstacle course for people with powered-arm prostheses performing everyday tasks such as slicing bread and opening jars.
During a media demonstration Tuesday, Letain picked up tennis balls and blocks, opened and closed the hand’s fingers and ate an apple.
“As they think about doing a certain motion and as their forearm does that certain motion the hand actually follows,” said Brittany Pousset, head of research for Barber Prosthetics.
Letain’s team came second to Austria in a trial run last summer.
“We only had the arm for one week when we went to Zurich for the trial and we completed the course in just over six minutes,” said Letain.
Now the team has six months to perfect the hand before the Cybathlon in Switzerland in October.
Team leader Lukas-Karim Merhi is confident.
“I think we have a very good shot to bring the gold to Canada.”
Letain, 58, has worn a hook prosthetic with limited range of motion since he lost his left arm below the elbow while working as a locomotive engineer in B.C., in 1980. He was on the side of a boxcar when he got knocked off and was dragged for 11 metres.
He competed in three alpine skiing events at the 1992 Paralympics, with his best finish a fourth.
He’s already geared up for his next competition.
“The best technology, the best trained person has the best chance,” he said. But this is about much more than a race.
“The future with this hand, with this arm, is unlimited.”
With report from CTV Vancouver