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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

PSYONIC Brings Advanced Bionics to San Diego


PSYONIC, maker of the world’s most advanced bionic hand, is now headquartered in America’s Finest City.

Aadeel Akhtar
Founder and CEO

“My goal is to turn San Diego into the bionics capital of the world where everyone comes here to get the latest and greatest in bionic limbs,” said PSYONIC founder and CEO Aadeel Akhtar, who relocated the company from Champaign, Illinois, in July.

Akhtar said PSYONIC made the move because of San Diego’s “huge military presence” and the opportunity of partnerships with orthopedics departments at the Naval Medical Center and UC San Diego.

“They are very interested in working with this up-and-coming technology and becoming a center of excellence for amputation care as well,” Akhtar said, adding that San Diego also offers a robust medtech space, access to advancements in processors like the Qualcomm Snapdragon and proximity to Los Angeles.

“We have a goal of getting on ‘Jimmy Kimmel’ and having him arm wrestle the hand and use that to get donations and subsidize [people who] can’t afford the hand in the U.S.,” Akhtar said.

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San Diego is also home to Challenge Athletes Foundation.

“We have a five-year goal to make an Ability Leg in addition to our Ability Hand that you can do a triathlon on,” Akhtar said. “This is the perfect place to be to make all this future technology converge.”


Inspired to Innovate

PSYONIC’s Ability Hand was launched in September of last year, the culmination of a goal Akhtar had since he was seven years old on a visit to his parents’ native Pakistan.

There he met a girl his same age who was missing her right leg. She was the first person he had ever met with a limb difference — and his inspiration to pursue advance prosthetics.

Akhtar set out on an academic journey to fulfill his goal, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and then a master’s in computer science from Loyola University Chicago, where he then taught for a couple years before attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for another master’s in electrical and computer engineering and a doctorate in neuroscience – all while founding PSYONIC in 2015.

After receiving his PhD, Akhtar left medical school in 2017 to run PSYONIC full time. “And I never looked back since. It’s been a lot more fun,” he said.


Most Advanced Bionic Hand

PSYONIC touts its Ability Hand as the most advanced bionic limb available today. Akhtar said it is 2.5 times faster than any other bionic hand and is the first to have “touch feedback.”

“You can get very precise movements and then feel what you’re touching,” he said. The hand uses sensors throughout that then trigger vibrations that users can feel on their residual limb. “So if they’re grabbing something like a raspberry, they can feel that vibration and know exactly when they’ve come in contact with it and when they’ve let go.”

PSYONIC has also advanced improvements to the durability of bionic hands.

“We started talking with hundreds of patients and clinicians and the number one thing they complained about was that their $50,000 bionic hand, with injected molded plastic and custom machined steel, was breaking – and not for doing anything crazy. If they just hit it against a side of a table, it would just snap at the joints because they were made from rigid materials.”

After researching the world of “soft robotics” and developing several rounds of prototypes, the current Ability Hand model is made of a carbon fiber palm with silicon covered fingers.

“We had to come up with a way of how we could still leverage the low-cost manufacturing of 3D printing but make these hands more robust than anything else,” Akhtar said.


‘A Better Quality of Life’

Ret. Sgt. Garrett Anderson attests to the durability and improved performance of PSYONIC’s Ability Hand. He was the first person to receive and use one of the early prototypes in 2015 and has tested every update since by doing actions like breaking boards martial arts style or doing pushups for the first time since losing his arm in Iraq in 2005.

“He’s broken every single one of these and the idea was that if we could make one that can survive him, then we’ve passed the test,” Akhtar said.

Anderson said even the first PSYONIC hand was a vast improvement over previous bionics he had used because it was much lighter.

Garrett Anderson
Retired Sergeant
U.S. Army

“For me, being a right arm amputee, weight is a big deal,” he said, adding that he also enjoyed the continued advancements he tested in the subsequent Ability Hands he received form PSYONIC, including improved size, materials, speed and the sensory feedback that allows him to touch and feel his daughter’s hand and face. “Another innovative feature that PSYONIC has done is to enable the user to optimize the grips of the hand by having an app that the user can customize themselves.”

Anderson said it has been “a privilege and an honor” for him to work with PSYONIC and be part of developing “a prosthetic with so many features.”

“Their passion, their dedication and their innovation to improve the smallest details in this type of device really gives individuals with amputees a better quality of life,” he added.


Improved Access

Besides improving the abilities of bionic hands, PSYONIC is also improving access. Akhtar said that previous bionic limbs were mostly only covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs or by Workman’s Compensation Insurance if a limb was lost in a work accident.

“That covered only about 10% of the entire market of people who could afford it in the U.S.,” he said. “We got our hand covered under Medicare, and by getting it covered under Medicare we’ve expanded that access to 75% of patients in the U.S. who can now afford the most advanced bionic hand on the market.”

Akhtar estimates that in U.S. there about 40,000 people who can use a PSYONIC hand, and with Medicare now covering 30% of the cost, the company is in position to help more of them.

“We’ve got 60 hands out there in the wild after we did our launch in September of last year and the demand is really high still for our hand,” he said.

Outside the U.S. the demand is even higher. Worldwide, there are 10 million people with a missing limb, 80% of them are in developing countries, Akhtar said. To address those people, Akhtar has created the Psyonic Institute – a social impact arm of the company that will partner with nonprofits to solicit donations to subsidize cost for those who can’t afford a limb.


‘Incredible Technologies’ to Come

PSYONIC’s move to San Diego comes at a time when the company is developing its most ambitious advancements to bionic limbs. “We’re working on incredible technologies coming out in next five years,” Akhtar said. “We’ve been partnering with organizations and surgeons who are doing bone integration, so instead of attaching to a socket that goes over your residual limb, we will attach that directly to your bones and we’ll have a titanium interface that will attach to that.”

PSYONIC is also working with researchers who are doing nerve implants that will enable the user to control individual fingers.

“This will eventually allow you to play piano again, type on a keyboard,” Akhtar said.

The technology is already there. A current Ability Hand prototype can connect to a camera and by following the movements of fingers on a natural hand, the bionic hand can mimic them. “The same algorithms that we have for tracking the hand on the webcam are the same ones we can use for reading your nerve data directly invasively inside your body,” Akhtar said.

PSYONIC is also developing the hands for robotics applications and companies like Meta, Apptronik and even NASA have ordered Ability Hands to develop robots to do human tasks.

“It makes sense that the robotics companies would buy the same things humans are using,” Akhtar said.


Founded: 2015
CEO: Aadeel Akhtar
Headquarters: Scripps Ranch
Business: Advanced bionic limbs
Employees: 21
Website: www.psyonic.io
Notable: PSYONIC’s Ability Hand is the only bionic hand that features touch feedback for users.


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