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The super hand!

29 October 2019

Bionicman is a different kind of superhero. His futuristic prosthetic hand lends him superhuman powers. He uses these powers to give children with disabilities more confidence – and cool, 3D-printed hands.

When Michel Fornasier dons his sparkling blue cape, he ceases to be a normal human with everyday problems and limitations. He transforms into his alter ego ¬– Bionicman – who has unlimited powers, is able to fly, and can even turn back time.

“The costume creates this special kind of magic. When I’m standing in front of school kids, they actually believe that they’re looking at the real Bionicman. That’s just an amazing feeling,” said Fornasier.

However, Fornasier isn’t wearing his superhero costume just to make himself feel good. He’s on a mission. He works to strengthen the confidence of children and show them that having a physical disability does not make them better or worse than other children. Fornasier was born without a right hand and knows what he is talking about. He never let things slow him down, learned early how to tie his shoelaces, and has even run a marathon. After all, why not?

From Spider-Man to Bionicman
Fornasier has been using a myoelectric hand prosthesis made by Touch Bionics, a high-tech device with six integrated maxon motors that provides 25 motion patterns. He said: “This prosthesis has made my life much easier in many respects. I can use it to ride a bicycle or scooter and am able to type on a keyboard using both hands. Also, simply being able to hold a smartphone in my right hand feels great.”

Children used to ask whether the hand gives him superpowers? Initially, Fornasier said no. However, after a while he began to say: ‘Who knows?’ and that is how the idea of Bionicman was born. Fornasier contacted the artist David Boller, who had worked for Marvel and DC in the USA and had even drawn Spider-Man comics in the past. Together, they created the first stories about Bionicman, who comes to people’s aid in various situations. Physical handicaps play a role in many stories. “What I want to do is to point out in a playful way that there are people with disabilities, and that they would like to be treated just like anyone else,” said Fornasier. The first comic anthology is out now. A second volume is planned for late 2019.
While Bionicman provides the moral support, Fornasier helps out with state-of-the-art technology. In 2016, he started the charity organisation ‘Give Children a Hand,’ to which he devotes a lot of energy. A cooperation with ETH Zurich and the Wyss Institute has been set up to develop affordable prosthetic hands whose components come from a 3D printer. Currently, 25 children are wearing prototypes and continually provide feedback for improvements. “To children, the look is often more important than the functionality,” said Fornasier. “First and foremost, the prosthesis has to look cool!”

Ambassador of the Cybathlon
There is still a lot to do: Engineers have to keep developing prosthetics, and society needs to treat people with disabilities as equals. This is what Bionicman fights for. These goals are also shared by the Cybathlon event, which will take place again in 2020 in Zurich. In the Cybathlon, people with physical disabilities compete against each other in obstacle races – supported by state-of-the-art technical assistance systems. It comes as no surprise that Fornasier is an ambassador of the Cybathlon. “I mainly try out new tasks for the prosthetic hand race and provide feedback to the organisers to find out what is difficult and what could be improved. It’s a great event, because it’s about people, not about disabilities.”
©maxon: Fornasier has been using a myoelectric hand prosthesis made by Touch Bionics, a high-tech device with six integrated maxon motors that provides 25 motion patterns.

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