Oct 8, 2015 | By Benedict

Prosthetic hands tend to be built with two main features in mind, both of which are considered inherently desirable. One of those features is the realism of the prosthetic: many devices are built with the aim of faithfully replicating the appearance of the human arm. This is generally done for the sake of congruity, as prostheses designers generally find that those born without a hand or those who have had an amputation are looking for a prosthesis which does not look too obviously like a prosthesis. The other main feature relates to practicality rather than aesthetics: fine motor control of the artificial limb is desirable because it enables the wearer of the prosthesis to perform tasks which require greater dexterity. Prostheses with a greater degree of fine motor control are more expensive to build and therefore more expensive to purchase. 

Open Bionics, a prosthesis manufacturer from Bristol, United Kingdom, have decided that realism and fine motor control need not be the be-all and end-all of artificial limb design. They have designed a range of 3D printed prostheses for children which are not intended to blend into the background, but rather to stand out and allow children to be proud of their prosthesis. By calling attention to the artificiality of the limb, Open Bionics have made a range of prostheses which are intentionally incongruous, which are intended to give children confidence.

How exactly have the company done this? Open Bionics have 3D modelled their ‘world’s smallest bionic hands’ after children’s superheroes and movie characters. Yesterday, October 7th, the firm unveiled their three bold and wonderful designs at Techstars' Disney Accelerator Demo Day, a program which offers capital to chosen startups. The three fun designs consist of an Iron Man bionic hand, for children to transform themselves into inventor-superhero Tony Stark, a Frozen-themed blue and white sparkle design, and a Star Wars lightsaber design. You might be wondering how Open Bionics acquired image rights from Marvel, Disney, and Lucasfilm respectively to build and produce these movie-inspired products. The answer is simple: Techstars’ Disney Accelerator scheme includes creative resources and royalty-free access to Disney characters. Open Bionics were able to use designs heavily inspired from these movies, at no cost to them, and to the benefit of the children who will use them.

Open Bionics founder Joel Gibbard, after talking to a range of prosthesis users, discerned that people were generally more concerned with the appearance of the prosthesis than its technical function. Due to the costly nature of more dextrous prostheses, many users must use a claw rather than a fully dextrous hand. Upon seeing this, Gibbard’s was response was to focus most of his attention on the aesthetics of his prostheses, seeing the device as one part tool, one part fashion accessory. And for whom would such an accessory provide the greatest confidence boost, the greatest benefit, the greatest opportunity? Children, thought Gibbard.

Images from Open Bionics

As well as these fancy new designs, Gibbard also runs the Open Hand Project: an open source project on which anyone can download and 3D print their own prostheses. All for free. The Dextrus hand, available to 3D print from the Open Hand Project website, is intended for ABS plastic 3D printing, which provides a cheaper alternative to titanium and carbon fibre options.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications





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