The question, “Hey, Grandpa, where’d your fingers go?” haunted the man featured in the
for months after he lost two digits to a table saw. But somehow, he’s on the screen wiggling four normal-length fingers. Two he was born with; the other two Dan Didrick gave him. The latter are surgical steel digits called
, which move, flex, and grasp just like his originals.
“Now when the grandkids come over, they’re totally amazed. They call me Robo Man,” says the grandfather, his voice mellowing. “I can’t believe it myself. I actually have fingers that work.”
Didrick, of Naples, Fla., designed these, the world's first active-function artificial finger assemblies specifically for amputees, in
. He accomplished this feat over a two-week period with no engineering experience – just a week of self-paced tutorials. In fact, he didn’t know what computer-aided design was before he started using it. He’d whittled his first concept prototype from pine.
Eight years and 80-plus designs later, X-Fingers and X-Thumbs mimic natural body parts without any electronics. The criss-crossing surgical steel levers, which put the “X” in X-Fingers, are actuated by the remaining finger or thumb and covered in thermoplastic for a lifelike look and feel. Patients can pick up coins, button shirts, tie shoes, type letters, carry buckets – even play the piano.
X-Fingers, notes Didrick, are a huge leap from the traditional flaccid latex appendages whose only function is masking the problem. As such, X-Fingers have earned his company,
, global recognition:
• Didrick Medical
received the 2009 Perfect Pitch Award in
November 2009, judged by several successful entrepreneurs, including Sir Richard Branson of Virgin.
• X-Finger has been showcased in the Isimbardi Palace in Milan, Italy, as well as several museums, including the United States Patent and Trademark Museum, the California Science Center in Los Angeles, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Museum of Science in Boston, the Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.