Jan 28, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve been hearing a multitude of 3D printed prosthetic stories ranging from the volunteer-based E-Nable company that matches designers and engineers with kids in need to a couple of doctors who have recently taught themselves 3D modeling and are in the process of setting up a 3D printing lab at their medical practice, we rarely hear about a Maker who themselves are in need of a prosthetic hand and have resorted to designing their own.

But Nicolas Huchet of Rennes, France is no ordinary maker.  

The motivated self-starter, founder and project manager of the Bionico Hand tragically lost his own hand during a work accident in April of 2002.  Because of his active life, which includes a career heavily focused on music production and teaching others how to use complicated music production software such as Pro Tools, Huchet has relied his myoelectric prosthesis every day.

In October of 2012, Huchet discovered a fablab in Rennes and dug deeper to figure out if it was possible to build his own robotic hand for tens of thousands of dollars less than the pre-existing prosthetics he had been forced to consider.  After being told about the potential for 3D printing and open source tools that include expansive online communities of those looking to help other users, Huchet was convinced that he could develop his own robotic hand design not just for himself, but others in need of a prosthesis both in France and internationally, too.  

In the latest issue of MAKE: Magazine, Huchet broke down the process of developing the hand, starting with the moment he first saw a 3D printer at his local fablab:

“While walking through Rennes, I passed an exhibition [at the LabFab fab lab] where strange machines, like something from science fiction, were depositing layers of material onto platforms. They were 3D printers,” said Huchet.

After walking into the LabFab, the local Rennes makers were excited to learn that Huchet was interested in creating a 3D printed robotic hand.  Along with their excitement, they instantly started brainstorming which online resources could supply the necessary parts to get the first prototype made.  Among the services included MakerBot’s Thingiverse. InMoov and Arduino.

“I didn’t understand a word they were saying,” admitted Huchet.   “But I knew what they meant: It’s possible to design an inexpensive bionic hand that you can make yourself, then share your work so other people can improve it and share it further.”

Inspired by the encounter, Huchet set out on what he refers to as his “revolution”: the act of creating a shareable and highly-advanced open source robotic arm for those in need.

Only a few months later (February of 2013), Huchet and his team at LabFab had successfully sourced multiple parts and design input from international contributors ranging from muscle sensors from the United States to design consideration advice from Brazil.  The final result after only five months of development was a 3D printed hand that was equipped with actuators to move the digits and joints using transparent fishing line...all powered by muscle sensors and an Arduino “brain” that was built for around $250.  

While the finished prototype may not appear as human-like as some non-3D printed prosthetics, it’s dramatic difference in cost - some similarly-capable devices can cost upwards of $80,000 - more than makes up for it...not to mention the liberation of the design itself for tens of thousands in need, is priceless.

Since developing the prototype, Huchet has gone on a promotional circuit where he has shared his experience of creating the Bionico Hand.  Among other events he has attended include the first European Maker Faire in Rome, Italy, the Geek Picnic Science and Technology Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia as well as the World Maker Faire in New York City.  He has also presented the hand as a TED Speaker during at TED conference in his hometown:

Due to his concerns with international health insurance support (or lack thereof), Hutchet believes that the device will help in spearheading his philosophy of a “utopia of health for everyone”.  However, he still believes that the Bionico is still in a prototype stage and needs to be further developed.  His hopes are that he can either raise money through crowdfunding or find a sponsor to help him finalize the design and improve the quality of life for those in need of a low-cost and accessible prosthetic.  

“Above all, we want to create an international network and database devoted to improving low-cost prosthetics. This is an open-source project, which means you can participate or make it yourself. The prosthetic-hand field is very small, but if we build a bridge between countries and people, we can make it better and stronger, and go further, faster.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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bionicohand wrote at 2/16/2015 9:28:06 PM:

Salut tu as l'air d'être très professionnel vu ta façon d'ecrire t'es dispo pour te sortir les doigts et venir nous aider?

RupRep wrote at 1/28/2015 2:24:31 PM:

The guys that helped him with the design are completely retarded and should think of getting a robotic brain ! How can a man be stupid enough to put a huge arduino uno with the protyping shield on an arm ? How can a man be lazy enough to let all these wire 10 times longer than they should be ? Les gars du LabFab de Rennes auraient pu se sortir un peu plus les doigts du cul, honte sur vous les flemmards !

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