Jun 8, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printing technology and medical prosthetics seem to be a match made in heaven, there are still a few complications that need to be sorted out. Most significantly: how do you keep it cheap, functional and comfortable at the same time? After all, E-NABLE is doing fantastic work in spreading cheap PLA prosthetics that cost just a few bucks each, but they only feature a basic mechanical grip and tend to break easily. 3D printed bionics, meanwhile, are expensive, heavy due to all of the motors inside and therefore somewhat negate the bonuses of 3D printing technology.

To offer a middle way, Timothy Chung and his startup Biomechanical Robotics Group, has just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for the Nu Hand, a 3D printed bionic prosthetic that can be modified to suit every individual wearer, while keeping the costs down by using only a single motor to power all five fingers individually. It’s a clever design that, in short, combines the best of both worlds.

And as Tim explains on his Kickstarter page, he is an Iowa native who has always been fascinated by biomechanics and biomedical engineering. While in graduate school he decided to assemble a team to approach real world problems that are particularly prevalent among the underprivileged. ‘Biomechanical Robotics Group was founded with the vision of creating lower cost and highly functional prosthetic solutions for a large community of users. We have developed the Nu Hand3D printed hand prototype as a first step in fulfilling our vision. The Nu Hand is designed to address key needs and concerns in the amputee community and beyond with regard to practical, functional, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing prosthetic solutions,’ Tim explains.

While there is a lot you can do in the field of biomechanics, the Nu Hand grew out of Tim’s own experience with amputees. ‘I have known amputees personally, which has given me a glimpse into the challenges they face. I conceived of the Nu Hand as a way to make an immediate impact for the millions of people in the growing amputee community (a population expected to nearly double by 2050 in the U.S. alone due to longer life spans, vascular diseases such as diabetes, etc),’ he writes.

And the design he and his team has come up with clearly tries to find the middle ground between functionality, aesthetics and of course affordability. ‘Our company aims to address these imbalances by creating a product that is functional for a broad range of real-world tasks (activities of daily living), more life-like in appearance, and affordable,’ Tim explains. ‘We have taken the lessons learned from 1st generation 3D printed prostheses and are working on improving the replication of human anatomical motion.’ All the while, trying to keep the prices of these 3D printed prosthetics as low as possible.

So how does it work? ‘The Nu Hand is designed to mimic the complex mechanisms found in human hands with simple solutions to deliver practical mobility and functionality. Muscles that pull (never push) drive human hand motion naturally,’ Tim explains. ‘The Nu Hand will have elastic bands on the backs of the fingers allowing them to return to their original relaxed position after the 'tendons' release. This provides stability to the joint while closing (in real life, there are many bundles of muscles and tissue supporting each finger and joints).’

The team from BRG is currently working on a drive system that will enable a single motor to be used for this process, as opposed to five. ‘This is a unique approach as it would be much easier to drive the hand with five motors (something we plan to do during the next stage development). However, we feel that the benefit of using fewer motors will allow the Nu Hand to have longer battery life and be lighter weight,’ Tim explains. It will also, obviously keep prices down as much as possible. And connected to muscle sensors on the muscles of your arm, users are given the complete bionic experience.

At the same time, a very customizable manufacturing process can be found behind the Nu Hand, which also makes replacing broken parts very easy and affordable. ‘Using proprietary algorithms developed in house, we can closely match a client's hand/finger size quickly and easily without using expensive 3D scans. We have also designed a hand that closely mimics a more natural range of motion than many competing solutions,’ Tim explains, adding that the prototype in the photos is based on his own hand. These algorithms rely on anthropometric data points which are used to estimate all dimensions of the missing hand.

Really the only problem with the Nu Hand is that it hasn’t been completed yet; currently in a prototyping phase, Tim and his team from BRG are looking to raise enough funds to complete the design process and enter manufacturing. Through Kickstarter, they are hoping to get their hands on $50,000 by the 6th of July. A pledge of $499 is enough to get your hands on a Nu Hand, while you will also be helping thousands of people around the world. Go here for more information.


Posted in 3D Printer Applications



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The BRG Team wrote at 6/11/2015 5:35:08 AM:

Thanks so much for the article. We are happy that this is getting attention. If you have any questions please feel free to email us at biomechanical.robotics.group@gmail.com

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