Andrew Hitz with the Zeus hand.
Courtesy of Aether Biomedical
In 2011, Jeremy Schroeder was driving a four-wheeler near Sherwood, Ohio, when he crashed right into a stop sign he hadn’t seen because the stone path suddenly turned to asphalt. The sign left a deep gash in Schroeder’s arm; he was rapidly losing blood.
Shroeder, who was 30 on the time, waited greater than an hour for emergency medical services to reach before he was finally airlifted to a close-by hospital.
When he woke up in a room across from his anxious wife, Schroeder was missing a hand.
“She goes, ‘I got bad news,'” he told CNBC in an interview, recalling the conversation.
Schroeder’s left arm was amputated around five inches below his elbow. He has 4 kids and manages a small farm where he drives tractors, harvests crops and cares for animals, so he was determined to not let his accident slow him down.
Now, 12 years later, Schroeder wears a bionic hand designed by the startup Aether Biomedical, and it’s business as usual for him. Aether’s hand, called the Zeus, can lift as much as 77 kilos and switch between 12 different customizable grip patterns in real time. Schroeder, who’s now an envoy for the corporate, said he uses it for “every part,” whether it’s carrying groceries, driving his truck or caring for his kids.
Founded in 2018, Aether relies in Poland with U.S. headquarters in Chicago. Aether works with upper limb amputees, and anyone with an amputation level between the wrist and the shoulder can use its Zeus hand. Once patients are fitted with a prosthetic socket for his or her arm by a health care provider, Aether’s device can fasten on the tip.
Greater than 200 patients are using Aether’s Zeus hand, and like other bionic hands, it really works by translating the electrical signals within the arm muscles. When a patient thinks of a grip like holding a bottle or pinching a needle, Aether’s sensors detect these electrical signals and its software converts them into actions.
“Absolutely anything you’ll be able to think, you’ll be able to do,” Schroeder said. “It’s really neat what some people can do with it.”
Jeremy Schroeder with the Zeus hand.
Courtesy of Aether Biomedical
Aether CEO Dhruv Agrawal said the Zeus hand is the strongest bionic hand in the marketplace, and it is also the one hand that could be remotely configured through an app, which is a giant selling point for users.
It is common for patients to want adjustments to their bionic devices, especially as they’re first learning to make use of them, and it normally requires an in-person visit to a health care provider’s office. But patients who use Aether’s device can have their clinician go browsing to the corporate’s cloud-based platform and reconfigure grip patterns and make other adjustments remotely.
Schroeder said this feature often saves him greater than two hours of driving.
Aether also takes a novel approach to larger repairs.
The Zeus hand is made up of seven modules that could be easily replaced at a health care provider’s office, said Sarra Mullen, head of U.S. operations at Aether. She said other bionic hands should be sent back to the manufacturers to be repaired, which may leave patients stuck without their devices for prolonged periods.
“Imagine not having your hand for weeks, months at a time,” Mullen told CNBC in an interview. “We’ve this ability now to maintain the device on the patient in any respect times, and that actually is remarkable.”
Aether’s Zeus hand is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it’s covered by all major insurance payers. The corporate generates revenue, Mullen said, so its primary focus is on scaling access to its technology.
On Monday, Aether announced it closed a $5.8 million funding round led by J2 Ventures and Story Ventures. Agrawal said the funding will mainly be used to enhance the corporate’s manufacturing process. Aether currently has a backlog of devices it must ship out, he added.
Within the U.S. alone, there are between 800,000 and 1 million estimated upper limb amputees, so there’s loads of room for Aether to grow. The challenge, Agrawal said, is winning over patients who’ve never wanted a bionic hand or who’ve been discouraged by past devices they’ve tried.
“In the event you used a tool a few years ago and didn’t prefer it, that doesn’t suggest that you’ve to offer up on it today,” he told CNBC in an interview. “Technology is improving.”
Given Aether’s presence in Poland, Agrawal said the corporate can be working to get its devices to individuals who have been injured due to the war in Ukraine. He said Aether is sending its first team to the region in a number of weeks, and the corporate is expecting to suit between 300 to 500 individuals with the Zeus hand over the following 12 months and a half.
The Zeus hand.
Courtesy of Aether Biomedical
If patients have never used a bionic hand before, Mullen said, it normally takes between 4 to 6 weeks to learn how one can use Aether’s comfortably. She said patients first generally see a prosthetist, which is the sort of doctor that matches patients with artificial limbs. They get arrange with the hand, after which go to occupational therapy to learn to make use of it.
It takes time and practice to know how one can operate the various grip patterns, Mullen said. But Andrew Hitz, a 61-year-old who lives about 40 miles south of Dallas, mastered the Zeus hand in only 10 minutes.
Hitz had an elective amputation below the elbow of his left arm in February of 2019 after suffering a serious accident on a side-by-side vehicle years earlier. He had tried to avoid wasting his hand through various different procedures, and his surgeon eventually told him that he was out of options.
“Actually, it was the most effective thing that I ever did,” Hitz told CNBC in an interview. “I wish I might have jumped to the conclusion of getting it taken off years prior, saving me a number of the agony and pain of all of the surgeries that I went through.”
Hitz has used other bionic hands before, and he said lots of them are sitting on his shelf and collecting dust. He happened to stumble across Aether at a trade show in Dallas this 12 months where tried out the Zeus hand. He said using it for the primary time was like a “ray of vibrant sunshine.”
“Literally in 10 minutes I used to be picking up little blocks that this previous hand that I had for nearly a 12 months and a half I just never mastered,” he said.
Aether gave Hitz a hand totally free, and he’s now an envoy for the corporate.
Like Schroeder, Hitz lives a really hands-on lifestyle and manages a small farm together with his wife. He cares for chickens, sheep, goats, donkeys and more. He said the Zeus hand works great for holding rakes and shovels, driving his tractor, carrying feed and gathering hay.
Hitz said the Zeus hand also has a soft grip feature, which implies he can use it to choose up eggs from his chicken coop.
“If I might have tried that with my other two, it will have smushed everywhere, egg in every single place,” Hitz said. “In order that just blew my mind once I went as much as the chicken coop, and I didn’t crush that egg.”
Out of Aether’s 50 employees, Agrawal said around 75% are dedicated to research and development, so the corporate is all the time looking forward to what’s next. He said Aether is already working on next generation devices, in addition to higher machine learning systems and digital training platforms.
He said ultimately, Aether’s goal is to assist make bionic devices more accessible and easier to make use of.
“The quantity of mental taxation that a user has to place in to make use of these devices has decreased loads with our product,” he said. “And I believe that is de facto key to making sure that these devices don’t sit in a boardroom, but are literally utilized by patients.”