“It reminds me of a 21st-century Eames splint,” said Dziersk about the Ness Handmaster, an electrical stimulation therapy for people who have had strokes or spinal-cord injuries. Penney added, “It avoids a prosthetic quality. Instead, like a well-engineered piece of sports equipment, it enhances the body.”
Created by Ness, an Israeli start-up, in collaboration with Jonathan Bar-Or Design, the tool has two parts, a palm-size electronic unit that delivers stimulating zaps and a rigid arm piece lined with electrodes that receives the charges. Bar-Or was originally hired to design an arm piece that someone with paralyzed hands could put on, align properly, and remove. His solution was a crocodile hinge: The upper wing swivels open, letting the patient insert a hand, and then closes snugly around the forearm. “It’s a very complex thing that’s intuitive and simplified,” said Dziersk. “I’ve rarely seen mechanical solutions so eloquently realized.”
The Handmaster’s good looks come from years of engineering and design. Early prototypes were downright ugly, but Ness pushed to make a device that people would feel comfortable using in public. Organic lines balance a high-tech aerodynamic appearance. “It’s fluid but not gratuitous,” said Siegel. “Each one of those curves has a purpose.”
In addition to the social importance and visual elegance of the Handmaster, the jurors highlighted a potential ripple effect of the arm-piece design. “Hammering, fly-fishing, tennis,” said Penney. “It has implications across many other product areas.”
Educated at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jonathan Bar-Or has been principal of his own studio in Israel since 1993. The firm has extensive experience in medical and ergonomic design.
Q+A with Jonathan Bar-Or
Jonathan Bar-Or Industrial Design Ltd.
What was your mission with this project?
To develop a cost-effective neuromuscular electrical stimulation device for independent use by patients who suffer from stroke or spinal-cord injuries that leave one or both hands paralyzed. We also had to provide a systematic modular solution that would enable clinicians, working in short sessions, to adjust the Handmaster to individual patients.
The design is so sleek it almost doesn’t look therapeutic. Did you think about the need to balance beauty and clinical attributes?
It was important that patients felt comfortable using the Handmaster during daily activities at home, at work, or in public. The structural skeleton had interesting formal potential from the beginning. It resembled a swan—the gesture of the long neck, the way the wings rest on the body. But while I was interested in organic form, I was also looking for an energetic and dynamic expression of the product’s advanced technology. Just as sports equipment can inspire people simply by the way it looks, I felt the Handmaster’s appearance could give patients a feeling of greater capability.
Does the Handmaster have competitors?
Other concepts for muscle stimulation do exist, but as far as I know, they are not designed for independent use by patients. Some place electrodes directly on the skin, others involve flexible structures, and both types require realignment of the electrodes before stimulation. By applying electrodes to a rigid structure, we allowed them to be positioned optimally for each patient every time the device is used.
What was your greatest difficulty?
Making something for circumstances we thought we understand, but which turned out to be quite different when we tested the device on patients. This required hands-on crafting of a continuously changing prototype. Later, while engineering CAD files of the injection-molded parts, it was quite a struggle to maintain the quality of the original handmade sculpture.
Ness Ltd., Ra’anana, Israel
Jonathan Bar-Or Industrial Design Ltd., Pardes Hanna, Israel: Jonathan Bar-Or, industrial designer; Dr. Roger Nathan, biomechanical engineer; Amit Dar, R&D; Giora Arbel, engineering; Amos Gil, engineer; Yossi Swisa, CAD design; ARAN R&D, engineering and mold-making; WILDEN, engineering, mold-making, production; Orit Chen Tzadok, graphic and logo designer; Hanan Anderman, plastics engineering consultant
Injection-molded plastic, nylon, silicone, polyurethane foam, electrical flexible printed circuitry, foil electrodes
Cimatron 3D CAD, Rhino, SolidWorks