The Institute of Biomedical Engineering: The development of the UNB Hand

The UNB Hand, what is it? What has it accomplished? Why should it be important to me? These are questions that you likely had when you first looked at the title of this article, and these are the questions we are going to answer.

The UNB Hand is an advanced prosthetic hand, one of the first to incorporate a powered thumb for multiple grasping types. It features movement in all five fingers, triggered by signals acquired from remaining muscles, while being designed to be cost effective and groundbreaking, providing new possibilities for upper limb amputees.

The creation of the UNB Hand was led by the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (IBME) at UNB, with the aid of the Canadian Government’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, IBME was united with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago BioMechatronics Development Laboratory, The Université de Moncton’s Thin Films and Photonics Research Group, UNB’s Applied Nanotechnology Laboratory, and Liberating Technologies Inc. located in Massachusetts. The UNB Hand was developed to take advantage of the advances in pattern recognition algorithms developed at IBME that can successfully distinguish between multiple types of grasps.

What is the UNB Hand?  

Submitted by Article Reviewer

Submitted by Article Reviewer

In building the UNB Hand, many design factors were considered and helped guide its development. First and foremost was affordability; having improved functionality without a dramatic increase in price. Controllability was another issue that had to be addressed; the Hand relies on the recognition of muscle activation patterns as opposed to conventional control systems which can be unnatural, cumbersome and less effective. Lastly, it must be adaptive to different people of varying sizes and control requirements. With these requirements, the team began building the hand over a period of 5 years.

What they produced was a dexterous hand that had a powered thumb, which was unique at the time. The Hand can independently move both the thumb and the index finger, while the middle, ring and little fingers are driven by a single motor and differential gear system. Movement is coordinated through the detection of myoelectric signals, biological signals that are generated by muscle tissues to trigger movement. To make use of these signals, the system must amplify and decode the myoelectric signals.

Current Research Pursuits?  

The IBME advanced prosthetic limb technologies with the design of advanced prosthetic hand and by developing a more robust prosthetic limb control system, capable of generating a reliable control signals. The UNB Hand incorporates a serial communication protocol called the Prosthetic Device Communication Protocol (PDCP), the PDCP allows a more reliable method of communication between components of the prosthetic limb system. The PDCP was developed by Dr. Yves Losier and Adam Wilson to also respond to the need for a standardized communication system in prosthetic limbs and to allow for modular prosthetic limbs to be developed effectively while allowing components from multiple manufacturers to be used together. The idea behind a standardized system is like Lego, where multiple pieces can fit together to create a prosthetic limb that is customized for the patient, providing the best possible prosthetic limb for them.

Currently, a large amount of work is being done towards understanding how to achieve more reliable control signals in myoelectrically controlled prosthetic limbs, this is continuing to be worked on at the IBME by several researchers. To see and understand more about the work on understanding myoelectric signals being done by IBME, take a peek by taking a look at this Google Scholar search.

To see more about what the UNB Hand and the PDCP, visit the Myoelectric Control Symposium Conference Proceedings from 2011 Here or to see more about the Myoelectric Control Symposium.

*This article was approved by a reviewer on September 9th, 2017.



Losier, Y., Clawson, A., Wilson, A., Scheme, E., Englehart, K., Kyberd, P., & Hudgins, B. (2011). An Overview of the UNB Hand System. Proceedings of the MEC'11 Conference. (pp. 251-254)

Losier, Y., Wilson, A. (2011) Bridging the Gap: Ensuring Communication Bus Standard Compatibility with Current Commercially Available Prosthetic Components. Proceedings of the MEC’11 Conference. (pp. 269-270)


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Jeremy Slayter

Jeremy is in his third year of a Biology Degree at the University of New Brunswick Fredericton. He has a passion for all realms of science, but predominantly health related as well as the psychological sciences. During his time as a student he has worked in various fields of research, including neurology, geriatrics, physical therapy, and rehabilitation medicine.

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Daniel Hanscom

Daniel is currently at the University of New Brunswick majoring in Biology and minoring in Mathematics. His academic interests include population genetics, biochemistry and statistics. After Daniel achieves his Bachelor Degree he’s hoping to move onto getting his Master’s and then a PhD. Daniel is hoping to pursue a career as a Biology professor. Apart from drowning in textbooks he can be found at the gym, in the line at Tim Hortons or jamming out to the Tragically Hip!

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James Tang

James is currently studying Biochemistry at the University of New Brunswick. Growing up in Fredericton, James discovered very early on his love for STEM; he enjoyed challenging himself in various enriched classes throughout middle school and high school. Research in Atlantic Canada has mostly fallen under the radar of the general public’s perception, and yet there is so much happening in right in our backyard. James hopes to explore new ideas and to be able to bring some well-deserved attention to these topics. In his free time, James likes to spend his free time working out, playing badminton, and sleeping.




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