Nov 5, 2015 | By Alec

With the future of 3D printed prosthetics clearly being in the field of affordable bionics, we have been keenly following a number of interesting 3D printing initiatives over the last few years. Among the most promosing are the British OpenBionics of Joel Gibbard and the Greek venture with the same name, the latter consisting of Yale postdoctoral associate at Minas Liarokapis and undergraduate and PhD students Agisilaos Zisimatos, Christoforos Mavrogiannis and George Kontoudis. Over the last year or so, Openbionics has been generating quite a bit of attention with a revolutionary hand design, but is already back for more. A finalist in Hackaday’s prestigious 2015 competition, the Greek team has taken things to the next level for by adding NFC ready fingers that can be programmed with various functions like interacting with smartphones.

To refresh your memory, the Greek OpenBionics team has been so successful for a number of reason. In part, its all about finances; their hand prosthetics can be built for less than $200 a piece, made from 3D printed components and off-the-shelf materials weighing just 300 grams or so. That alone is enough to make it a fascinating option for patients and doctors alike, but the real revolution is in its grasping mechanism. This will ensure that every finger can move separately and together facilitate 144 different grasp movements with a single actuator. That number is reached by 16 different finger combinations (all of which are done with a single motor) and 9 discrete positions of the thumb. It should, in short, be every bit as functional as a traditionally made prosthetic, but only cost a fraction of its price.

While their 3D printed bionic prosthetics are still being improved upon, they have thus already developed a very interesting product that could definitely be going places. And as they have been fully supporting open source initiatives since their launch in 2013, a lot of people stand to benefit. As Minas Liarokapis explained in a recent interview, the inspiration for OpenBionics came from a study under Professor Kostas Kyriakopoulos back in Athens. ‘He was motivated by the observation that the state of the art robotic and prosthetic hands are overpriced and lack basic functionalities,’ Liarokapis explains. ‘Since the early beginnings of the OpenBionics initiative, our main priority was to share open designs with the community of makers, scientists, hobbyists, robotic enthusiasts and later on with people in need (e.g. amputees).’

They have also been very active on Hackaday, which is an excellent community for ongoing making projects, and the team felt that competing for this year’s prize would be a fantastic motivator. And this year’s theme of changing the world is obviously perfect for a product that seeks to help amputees and people with birth defects. ‘A lot of companies and initiatives claim that they will change the world, it’s a catchy phrase, a nice slogan. We dream about changing the world, we really hope that we will be able to play a significant role in this process at some point. Until then, we want to change people’s lives,’ he adds. ‘To make them happier, more productive, to inspire them to be creative. To help amputees regain their lost dexterity. To educate young engineers, who will eventually become better than us. People will change the world, not initiatives or companies. Together we can change the world and we can make it a better place.’

And of course, their product itself is already fascinating enough – how many initiatives can clean to take a product prized the same as a sports car, and offer it for just $200? – but they are taking it even further. In particular, they are adopting Hybrid Deposition Manufacturing as a new technique, which essentially revolves around embedding electronics into 3D printed creations. ‘HDM combines additive manufacturing (AM) with multi-material deposition and embedded components in order to produce robotic, mechatronic, and other articulated mechanisms,’ the Greek team explains. ‘Using the HDM approach for our prosthetic fingers we can embed inside them a wide range of electronics, like force sensors, flex sensors or even NFC tags that will facilitate interactions with other electronic devices. Of course the new design has the disadvantage that it requires more complex tools and is slightly more expensive.’

As a proof of concept, they have made a series of fingers embedded with all kinds of sensors. ‘For now we use a ready model in SolidWorks. In the future we plan to use a 3D to reconstruct the intact hand of amputee, derive the mirror hand and build a personalized prosthesis,’ they explain. The design itself can be downloaded here. ‘It must be noted that the new fingers are completely modular. We want amputees to constantly use our hands and we hope that they will break them. We expect that the most frequent damages will happen to the fingers that can be easily replaced. After all the design is so affordable that each user may have several spare parts.’

So what can these fingers do? Well, among others, the NFC ready fingers can be programmed to interact with various electronic devices, such as smartphones. An example of this can be seen in the clip below. ‘The amputee may touch his smartphone with the index finger of the prosthetic hand to open a specific application or with the middle finger to tune the radio to his favorite station,’ the Greeks say.

With it, they will doubtlessly have a good chance in the finals, but the Greeks themselves are already looking beyond the competition. In the near future, they are seeking to release a new version of their prosthetic hand that relies more strongly on Hybrid Deposition Manufacturing, with the eye on more human augmentation. They are also already dreaming about exoskeletons, rehabilitation devices and more, so we’ll hear a lot more about the Greek OpenBionics in the near future. ‘OpenBionics just started. We have many ideas and many cool designs in mind for the years to come. We want to be part of the open-source revolution!’ Liarokapis says.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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