Nov 30, 2015 | By Benedict

Open Bionics has designed a 3D printed, Star Wars themed prosthetic arm. The fully functional 3D printed prosthesis was part of “Fashion Finds the Force”, a Star Wars themed fashion collection whose 20 pieces will be auctioned off for charity.

Characters in the Star Wars series of films have an unusual tendency to lose their arms. Anakin loses one in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, before losing the other in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When he later becomes Darth Vader, he has one of his replacement bionic arms dismembered by Luke in the climactic final duel of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Whilst various aliens, Sith Lords and Jedi lose limbs throughout the existing six installments, the most notable case is obviously the reverse instance between Luke and Vader, which occurs in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Just before Vader’s drops his famous lineage bombshell, he severs Luke’s lightsaber-wielding forearm. Once Leia and co. have rescued Luke, a medical droid provides the wounded Jedi with a bionic arm, which he is seen flexing in the final moments of the film. Luke’s bionic arm, now a symbol of the Star Wars universe, was seen as a sci-fi fantasy in the 1980s, something akin to Marty McFly’s auto-fit jacket and hover-board. But technological advancements in prosthetic limbs, 3D printed and otherwise, mean that functional bionic limbs are now very much a reality.

With Episode VII: The Force Awakens due to hit theaters in just a few weeks, 3D printed prostheses firm Open Bionics has designed a special 3D printed arm as part of the ‘Fashion Finds the Force’ themed fashion collection, featuring ten pairs of Star Wars themed items from UK designers. The 3D printed arm accompanies an impressive jumpsuit embedded with 10,000 Swarovski crystals, designed by British designer Claire Barrow. The jumpsuit’s star-like effect mimics the famous “jump to hyperspace” scenes in which Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon spaceship travels faster than the speed of light.

“Culturally the Star Wars films have had such a big cultural impact, from art through to fashion,” explained Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. “So we thought: How could we reboot that? We wanted to put together something that shows the very best of the new talent in the country but also looks really relevant for today to reflect the fact this film is about a new generation.”

Beautiful though it may be, Open Bionics’ 3D printed arm is no mere fashion accessory. It is also fully functional, and has been modeled by Grace Mandeville, who has a missing forearm. “The hand has individual finger movements,” explained Joel Gibbard, CEO of Open Bionics. “You can point and pinch and move each one independently from each other to make different grip patterns. As Grace Mandeville doesn’t have a forearm, we placed myoelectric sensors on her deltoid muscles on her shoulders to control it.”

Whilst the current version of the 3D printed prosthesis is only a prototype, Gibbard thinks the product could be available for public purchase in a year’s time. To produce a fully customized prosthesis, the wearer’s other arm is 3D scanned, and the data from the scan can be used by designers to produce a tailor made version of the prosthesis, which can then be 3D printed. The design and printing process takes roughly 48 hours, and Gibbard is delighted at close the company is to realizing the fictional technology of the classic films. “The idea behind what we’re doing is to try and take a new look at the prosthetics industry; to make it as advanced as possible,” said the CEO. “[Luke’s bionic arm] felt so incredibly futuristic at the time, but it’s here with us now. We have to think about what that means for the industry and so many people across the world. Yes we’ve blended fashion and technology, but we’re also raising the profile of something so important; and ultimately helping to make this kind of technology more accessible.”

The Fashion Finds the Force collection was a collaborative effort between Open Bionics, the London College of Fashion and Disney. “We wanted to integrate technology into this initiative because we felt it was so relevant to fashion at the moment and that idea of blending two very different industries together,” said Drinkwater. “Partnering with Open Bionics seemed really obvious.”

Gibbard’s philosophy regarding the fashion potential of prostheses is clear and longstanding. Back in October, Open Bionics released a range of three unique 3D printed prostheses for children, each inspired by a popular child-friendly movie. One featured a sparkly Frozen themed design, another mimicked the arm section of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, whilst the other was of course Star Wars themed. Gibbard believes that prostheses needn’t always search for subtlety and realism, and can also be used as fashion statements.  “People just think it’s a glove,” he admitted. “In some ways that’s flattering, it suggests it’s realistically formed… We want to create something that’s really fashionable and cool and interesting; but that shows off the wearer’s limb difference rather than just fitting in. This was a great opportunity to experiment with that.”

Images from Forbes

Open Bionics’ contribution to Fashion Finds the Force was one of ten pieces created by a range of UK-based designers. Each designer contributed two looks, and all will be auctioned off on behalf of Star Wars: Force For Change, which contributes to various international charities.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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