The road to a cheaper prosthetic hand, lt-Bionics made waves back in late 2019 when the fresh startup competed at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Tech Symposium. the corporate finished second to 3BM’s infrared paint-curing system, but Alt went on to capture national and international headlines on the strength of promising technology and an excellent story.

A writeup on the school’s site noted that, at $700, its prosthetic hand cost a mere fraction of the value of ordinary systems. Most of the next coverage has focused on the story of the team’s journey from a good idea to a marketable product, with CEO/co-founder (and USTA engineering grad) Ryan Saavedra noting that these kinds of products can range from $10,000-$150,000 a pop. the corporate is functioning to a price point around $3,500.

In the meantime, the Alt-Bionics team has been chronicling development on social media. Before we get this roundup started in earnest, we wanted to see in with Saavedra about how the past three years have gone and what the longer term holds for the corporate. And bonus: We’ve got a few unreleased renderings that Alt notes are “not indicative of our final product. Just merely a celebratory rendering our team put together to announce the completion of our patent” — so take that as you’ll.

Image Credits: Alt-Bionics

TechCrunch: Why are prosthetics prohibitively expensive?

I’ll start by saying that they aren’t expensive to manufacture and that they don’t get to be so expensive to the user. At all. there’s nobody account for this, but I will be able to do my best to summarize the multiple reasons behind the exorbitant prices surrounding bionic hands. we’ve found that there are two parts to the top price/cost of prosthetic devices. a 3rd (but secondary reason) also will be discussed.

The manufacturer. The manufacturer develops and creates these bionic devices then sells them to prosthetic and orthotic clinics (one of the few places you’ll be fitted for and buy these devices). the foremost affordable bionic prosthetic hand-sold to P&O clinics starts at about $10,000 and may go up to many thousands of dollars. curiously enough, this cost doesn’t always reflect the functionality or performance of the devices. These manufacturers ultimately determine the costs of their devices. The larger among them cite overhead costs because the primary reason they can’t lower their price tags.

The prosthetic & orthotic clinic. We are still learning more about the specifics, but these clinics handle the medical insurance side of things. this suggests that they submit LCodes (insurance codes for bionic hands, suggested by the manufacturer) to the medical insurance firm for reimbursement. These LCodes have floor and ceiling reimbursement amounts that the prosthetist can select. The reimbursement amount is usually quite what they purchased the hand, and covers the time and energy the clinic and clinician put into procurement, fitting, testing, assembly, and patient care. While normally an inexpensive margin is obtained (through reimbursement amounts closer to the floor), we’ve seen reimbursement amounts exceed $124,000 for a $10,000 hand (from a 2018 patient receipt).

Technological stagnation. The technology for bionic hands has been stagnant for nearly 15 years, with companies barely now emerging as competitors during this space. Larger companies during this space are tackling quite the one area of trans-radial (below elbow) bionic prosthetic devices. this suggests that their attention isn’t solely focused on the event and affordability aspects of upper extremity prostheses. The stagnation has meant that there are not any external factors or forces being pressed on the prevailing devices and their manufacturers. Essentially, they need no reason to lower the costs, in order that they remain equivalent. this is often more of an affirmation that reason No. 1 may be a larger problem.

TechCrunch: How has the reception been from the broader medical community?

Wonderful! Clinics, clinicians, patients, potential users, and other competing companies have all been incredibly supportive of our mission. Space and corporations, while competitive, are all aiming for an equivalent thing: using technological advancements to offer people a far better quality of life.

There is obviously some skepticism initially at how we are ready to achieve our much lower cost point ($3,500), but it’s quickly assuaged once we talk with them about our technologies and processes. We are currently discussing partnerships with prosthetic and orthotic clinics to assist develop devices that not only help patients but also lessen the burden of prosthetists within the repair and maintenance of those devices.

TechCrunch: How far along is that the project? What’s the present timeline for bringing it to market?

The project is simply emerging from its infancy and is about 42% complete. Some notable achievements are as follows:

Successful proof of concept with Army Ranger, Ryan Davis. December 2019.
Alt-Bionics was formed. May 2020.
$42,000 SolidWorks grant from Dassault Systems. July 2020.
Provisional patent filed. June 2021.
$50,000 investment from the town of San Antonio’s SAMMI Fund. July 2021.