Nov.8, 2014 | By Alec

3D printed prosthetics have been surging in recent years, and are currently changing the lives of thousands of people everywhere. Not only are these far more affordable than all traditionally-manufactured prosthetics available on the medical market, they're also far easier to customize and adjust.

While this is an absolutely wonderful development, most of these prosthetics are still just plastic constructions with a mechanical grip. Simply flick your wrist up or downwards, and the fingers move inwards or outwards. Doubtlessly, the real revolution in amputee convenience must be bionic prosthetics, that register and function through electronic signals from the arm's muscles. While bionic prosthetics are currently not yet at an affordable stage, that has been slowly changing thanks to the intervention of 3D printing. For here, too, 3D printing technology is proving to be capable of dramatically lowering production costs, though not as far as mechanical prosthetics are currently going down.

There are already a number of production team aiming at release marketable and affordable bionics, though none have yet reached that stage. Last week, we already reported on the interesting efforts of Bristol-based Open Bionics, but the Italian start-up Youbionic is currently working equally fascinating prototypes.

We first reported on their progress a few months ago, but they have just revealed to be capable of a producing a hand with 5-finger electronic movement. As its designer, Federico Ciccarese has revealed, it has always been their goal to produce a viable alternative to the €20,000 commercial bionics. Instead, they are currently aiming for a €1,000 price tag.

Ideally, the hand will also be modular. Once a marketable model is realised, this will also be able to be easily modified to, for instance, accommodate a growing child. While traditional prosthetics would need to be fully replaced at tremendous cost, the Youbionic would simply need to be slightly modified.

And 3D printing technology plays a major part in realizing those plans, both where costs and modifications are involved. 'We evaluated several choices but no doubt 3D printing is what we believe the best. We are excited about all that this technology can do and we want to believe it now, its strengths are the geometric construction potential and the product price.' All of these 3D printed parts have been made using selective laser sintering (SLS) technology.

And now they've reached a stage where the flexible movement system is actually functioning. This has been realized thanks to the 'deformation of the material' principle: 'Every characteristic and behaviour can be planned exclusively through its geometrical design and it requires minimal assembly.' Thanks to a meticulous development process, even the tiniest details of the human hand's complex internal geometries have been taken into account.

This has lead the Youbionic team to construct a prosthetic functioning with rotational transportation leverage mechanisms. These are 'synchronized so as to obtain a double rotation starting from a single rotation. This means that a realistic movement can be obtained through a simple actuator.' All this is controlled by already available technology, which helps keeps the price as low as possible. The 'brain' of the hand, for instance, is a simple Arduino board.

As Federico Ciccarese explained, they hope this bionic prosthetic will 'simplify people's lives while also enabling them to reduce the feeling of embarrassment that sometimes occurs when showing a prosthesis.' This is why they have also tried to make the prosthetic and its movements as visually pleasing and natural as possible.

However, as a final product is still some distance away, the Italian team is currently looking for investors who believe in the hand's (and the team's) potential. With proper financial backing, they believe the Youbionic can become a life-changing product in the near future. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of amputees throughout the world, let's hope they succeed sooner rather than later.

The Youbionic hand in action:

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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chris wrote at 11/8/2014 4:16:51 PM:

How much?

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