Losing a limb used to be a death sentence, but times have changed. Prosthetics have grown from primitive peg legs and hook hands to incredible high-tech devices that can replicate human functionality and even surpass it. Artists and engineers are constructing fake arms and legs that might be better than the originals. In this piece, we’ll spotlight 10 of the most awesome prostheses ever built.

Tattoo Machine Arm
Having a career that requires the use of your hands and then losing one is a true tragedy. But tattoo artist JC Sheitan Tenet turned that tragedy into triumph. After losing his lower left arm, he partnered with a fellow artist named Gonzal to construct one of the raddest prosthetic arms we’ve ever seen. The cyberpunk prototype started out as a cool-looking sculpture, but it wasn’t long before Tenet realized that he could actually use it to give people ink. Made from a repurposed record player and sewing machine parts, the Terminator-esque tattoo arm currently moves with his shoulder, but the duo plan to make it more precise and responsive with future builds.

Snake Arm
Some amputees have absolutely no interest in faking it. Jo-Jo Cranfield is a British swimmer whose was born without a left lower arm and hand. The amazing artisans at The Alternative Limb Project talked to her about doing a project and heard her complaints about existing prosthetics being heavy, clumsy and useless. In response, they created one of the coolest and creepiest artificial arms ever. At first glance, it looks relatively normal, until you notice the hyper-realistic snake body that coils out of the wrist and out of the elbow. This one doesn’t have any high-tech functionality — it just makes her look like a badass He-Man villainess.

Mermaid Tail
Just because prosthetics can mimic human forms doesn’t mean they have to. Nadya Vessey was born with a genetic condition that required her to have both legs amputated when she turned 16. That didn’t stop her from living a long and fruitful life, which included lots of swimming. In 2008, on a whim, she wrote to special effects house Weta Workshop and inquired if they could make her a prosthetic mermaid tail. To her surprise, they agreed and the resulting product is truly amazing. Made from a digitally printed polycarbonate spine and tail surrounded by a framework of wet-suit fabric, the tail makes her look and swim like a real-life mermaid.

Myoelectric Hand
Most arm and hand prostheses let you pull off one grip, which can be tough when you need to handle something delicate. The Bebionic 3 myoelectric hand, however, represents a serious leap forward in technology. Using a small amplifier, it detects the myoelectric signal generated by muscles in the wearer’s body. The strength of that signal tells the individual motors in each finger how hard to contract and squeeze. Once wearers get good with it, they can pick up eggs without cracking them and then hoist a cold beer in celebration. The company makes realistic skin coverings, but some prefer to let the badass Terminator-esque robotic exoskeleton show.

Steampunk Leg
With new technologies and lightweight materials, it’s become much easier to really go nuts with the aesthetics of your artificial limb. One of the coolest examples we’ve seen is the steampunk leg developed by Christopher Snell. The grandson of the founder of Snell’s Limbs and Braces, Christopher is a third-generation artificial limb maker, and he’s pushing the technology forward while keeping an eye on the past. The steampunk leg has a system of gears and pulleys that are activated by the motion of walking, creating a seriously awesome visual effect.

Hidden Camera Eye
We’re going to move away from the technical description of “limb” for a second to spotlight some seriously awesome cyborg technology. Rob Spence lost his left eye when he was nine, accidentally shooting it out when trying to blow up some cow patties. In 2009, he helped develop the EyeBorg, a hidden camera housed in a prosthetic eyeball. Using a wireless RF transmitter, it beams whatever Spence “sees” to an external monitor and recording device. Unfortunately, it can only run for about three minutes before overheating, but the team is hard at work on a new iteration of the technology.

Iron Man Hand
We feel so bad for kids who are missing limbs — it’s one thing to be a grown-up and lose part of your body, but a kid? That’s why it’s awesome that a number of designers are specializing in creating awesome prosthetics for the younger generation. One of the coolest we’ve ever seen is Pat Starace’s Iron Man-inspired hand. The New York-based creative developed the red and yellow artificial hand to include a variety of cool technology, including red lasers that fire when the hand is tilted down and an LED repulsor array in the palm. The hand also connects through Bluetooth to other wireless devices for maximum Tony Starkage.

Venom Snake Arm
The Most Badass Prosthetic Limbs
When James Young fell under a train in London, he was lucky to escape with his life. Unfortunately, he lost his left arm and leg before he was saved. In the intervening years, he’s been part of a project to make one of the slickest prosthetic arms of all time. Modeled after the metal limb of “Metal Gear Solid” protagonist Venom Snake, the project had involvement from Konami along with Open Bionics and carbon fiber specialists Global Racing Technologies. The final product has a price tag of about $85,000, but the perks are amazing. It has a built-in USB port for charging, works as a Bluetooth hub and even has a shoulder-mounted drone that Young can release to scout an area and transmit visuals back through a pair of goggles.

Spike Leg

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Viktoria Modesta walks the runway at the Fashion For Relief charity fashion show to kick off London Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015/16 at Somerset House on February 19, 2015 in London, England. The Fashion For Relief show is in support of Ebola, raising funds and awareness for Disaster Emergency Committee: Ebola Crisis Appeal and the Ebola Survival Fund. (Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images for Fashion For Relief)

Viktoria Modesta is a fascinating figure, proving that an amputee can be a pop star and a style icon. Born in Latvia, poor medical care resulted in the amputation of her left leg below the knee when she was 20. She’s turned this into a way to express personal style that a regular-bodied person could never do. One of Modesta’s most impressive custom prosthetics is a dramatic, deadly looking black spike that was featured in her “Prototype” video, designed by Sophie de Oliveira Barata and Kaos Art. This baby dispels all pretense of faking it, choosing instead to make a dramatic and powerful visual statement.

Deus Ex Arms
The Deus Ex games put us into a future of unlimited human enhancement, where people transcend their biological limitations and get all kinds of tech implanted in their body to kick ass and take names. Eidos and Square Enix are teaming up with Open Bionics to release a pair of incredibly awesome prosthetic designs based on the game’s world next year. These well-articulated limbs are based on the designs worn by Adam Jensen, the protagonist of the franchise, and their designs will be royalty-free so anybody with access to a 3-D printer can make them.


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