Feb.6, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve been seeing quite a few 3D printed prosthetic hands that have become widely-available for both kids and adults, the costs and logistics of creating electronic ‘bionic’ hands have still remained a small hurdle for those who don’t have the time or resources to develop their own solutions.  Open Bionics, a Bristol, UK-based startup that focuses on designing and developing low-cost 3D printed bionic hands however, wants to change that.   

The company recently presented their current prototype at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and were instantly a crowd favorite.  To test their 3d printed bionic device at the show, the company fitted their prototype to test pilot Daniel, a 24-year old who was born without a right hand and had him wear the device for five straight days.  The bionic hand was so popular that Daniel even received a marriage proposal from an interested individual.

Because Daniel had adapted to a life without the use of his right hand, wearing the device was both emotional and a learning experience in itself - particularly because he had to rewire his brain to accept that he could actually use his right hand to shake hands, fist bump, give high-fives and more.     

“I was feeling pretty emotional being there because it has been an amazing thing to be a part of,” said Daniel.  

“Because I was born without a hand, essentially I’ve been learning to use a hand for the first time, it’s really surreal. I kept shaking hands with people, and they kept asking to high-five, fist-bump, and take photos with me. It was really nice seeing how people reacted to my robotic hand, nobody shied away and I felt like I was making up for lost time.”

To operate the 3D printed bionic hand, Daniel attached electromyographic sensors to the end of his limb that were able to register muscle activity.  When he flexed his limb, the corresponding muscle movements moved the fingers of the hand to open and closed positions.   

“I just put the prosthetic on, plug in the battery pack, and stick on the EMG sensors,” said Daniel.   

“It’s great at picking up the muscle signals. I’d say it took me about two minutes to get used to it and the sensors didn’t stop working for the whole trip.”

The bionic hand prototype that Daniel wore during CES was Open Bionics’ latest build attempt at a device that they are hoping they’ll be able to develop into a mass market-friendly bionic hand that will be able to be manufactured and sold for less than $1,000.  In its current stage, the hand is already half the weight of current robotic prosthetics...not to mention much cheaper than some of the other more complex devices in existence that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce.  The bionic hand design even won the Computer Bild’s prestigious ‘Best Product Innovation’ award, which was chosen out of a pool of all the products exhibiting at CES - not just 3D printing or prosthetic-related devices.  

According to Open Bionics’ Joel Gibbard (who also invented the hand at 24 and is Britain's Design Engineer of the Year), the company is currently working on making the hand a completely integrated single unit that is also completely wireless and can be recharged at night similar to a smartphone.      

Thanks to Daniel’s feedback over the five-day period at CES, it’s looking like Joel’s development goals might be a giant step closer to reality.   

“It was interesting to watch someone adjust to wearing a bionic device, in the way that they used it naturally, and without thinking about it,” he said.

“Seeing Dan wearing the hand was a motivator because I saw that he could actually use it, and that it would be a benefit to him, just like we hoped it would. We could also see clearer the issues with it, that we now have to solve. It’s a big push forward for us.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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