Jul 29, 2016 | By Alec

The 3D printing community has already successfully taken over the market for cosmetic prostheses, as fantastic initiatives like E-NABLE have proven. But the world of bionics is a different place and just a handful of makers have gone there with any form of success, such as the very inspiring Open Bionics. But even 3D printed bionic prostheses are definitely within our reach, as French open source fanatic Nicolas Huchet of Bionico has proven. Though by no means a making expert himself, he 3D printed his own open source bionic hand during a three month residency at FabLab Berlin and has now shared all the files – including an extensive tutorial – online. This means you can now 3D print your very own bionic prosthesis at home for just $700.

Nicolas Huchet himself perfectly understand why open source principles are crucial for people with missing limbs. He lost his own hand during a work-related incident back in 2002, and he is not alone. Just in France, around 300 people lose their hands every year, and about half of them get prostheses – either aesthetic ones or myoelectric prostheses that rely on muscle sensors. Nicolas himself is part of that latter group, and is quite lucky in that respect as these prostheses are covered by French social security services.

But despite that, he is well aware of the limitations of those existing bionic options. They cost tens of thousands of euros, and are slow to adapt to technological changes. The next generation of bionics, for instance, are not covered by the social security services and cost up to €70,000 – an arm and a leg for many people. But back in 2012, he discovered a Fab Lab in his city of Rennes and started exploring 3D printing and open source materials – realizing that ordinary people now have tremendous possibilities within reach.

He therefore set up Bionico in 2013, which seeks to further develop open source prosthesis opportunities for people everywhere – especially in those regions of the world where governments do not provide financial assistance. “The project comes from the passion for technology and sharing knowledge, the desire to help others, and discontent in the world in which we live today (health for the benefit of profit),” he says. This already resulted in the 3D printable My Human Kit, developed with a team of experts, which has already received funds from a number of backers to help people throughout the world.

But for his residency at the Fab Lab Berlin, Nicolas wanted to see if it was possible to build one of the other existing 3D printable open source bionic prostheses: the Japanese Exiii Hackberry open source hand. And the short answer is yes. Despite suffering from his own disability, Nicolas was able to build a €700 custom-fitting prosthesis with the help the Berlin team, a 3D printer and numerous off-the-shelf parts. Also involved were the Makea Industrie and Ottobock teams.

As Nicolas revealed, it was quite a realistic challenge. All the 3D printable files for the many components that make up the hand can be downloaded from GitHub here. The full bill of materials and tools, and a tutorial, can be found on Nicolas’ My Human Kit page. In the end, Nicolas and his German team 3D printed all parts on a Stratays Dimension 3D printer, as a MakerBot model did not provide them with the accuracy they wanted for the fingers and other very small components. Before that, all the parts were optimized in Simplify and Cura software.

Of course assembly is far more difficult that the 3D printing stage, as a lot of electronics are involved. So if you’re planning to tackle this project yourself, be sure to follow Nicolas’s excellent tutorial– which really breaks down each and every step. Also be sure to grab his Arduino code from that same page.

But the beauty of 3D printing is that anything can be customized, and the Exiii Hackberry is no different. Specifically, it can also be adjusted for users who already have a professional wrist connector that has been made to fit by orthotists and prosthetists. This makes it very easy to plug the hand directly onto a socket. As Nicolas has one of those, they used an iPad and its 3D Structure Sensor to scan the silicone liner he wears on his stump. This was used to 3D print a perfectly fitting socket, made with a Stratasys 3D printer in ABS P430 material.

All in all, Nicolas did not even need three months to build the prostheses. It took about a week to complete all the 3D printed parts, two days to assemble and solder all components, and a further two days to build the 3D printed socket. Nonetheless, Nicolas feared that this project was a bit too ambitious for a non-technical builder such as himself. “I was really afraid not to succeed because this project is complicated and involve lots of dexterity and skills because of the small components and the electronics. Because we made 2 versions, we could benefit of the experience of the 1st hand to make this second version faster,” he says.

But the real question is: how does it compare to his standard bionic hand? Truth be told, the Exiii hand is not completely interchangeable with his current, non 3D printed model. “It is, from my point of view, definitely not usable on a daily basis because it is not strong or robust enough. It is also difficult to put on clothes because the hand can’t get a strong grip on the clothes. The servos heat very fast and stop working after about 15 min use,” he says. When that happens, the hand must be turned off to let them cool, which does not exactly motivate wearers.

But its advantages certainly outweigh the benefits. “For the first time ever, it is possible to use a 3D printed open source bionic hand, which means it’s possible to grab objects such as cups, a smartphone or small objects such as a pen, a sheet of paper, a spoon, a cookie, even a cigarette for smokers. The different modes allow users to switch between power grasp, precision grasp, or lateral grasp which gives the sensation of being able to do more things,” he says. While perhaps not perfect for users with access to alternatives, it certainly opens up a new world of possibilities for the rest of the world.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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