Jul 15, 2016 | By Alec

It looks like 3D printing is also catching on in Russia. Just over the past few days, Rosatom unveiled Russia's first metal 3D printing system, while the Ural Federal University revealed a collaboration with Chinese partners to develop more 3D printing technology. But this Russian 3D printing revolution is by no means just a top-down event, as the 28-year-old engineer Maxim Lyashko from Norilsk in Siberia shows. He has developed the MaxBionic, the first-ever Russian-made 3D printed bionic prosthesis, and he is currently working to share it with the world through crowdfunding.

Lyashko himself knows exactly how important this innovation is. Just three years ago, the 28-year-old lost his own right hand while working in a mine. And he is by no means the only handicapped Russian missing a limb. As a country with lots of industry and mining, it is hardly surprising that about 6000 people lose hands in Russia every year. “Of those people, very few can afford to buy high-tech prosthetics, and are stuck with the trauma, the discomfort and the ghost pain,” Lyashko said. The engineer himself knows this problem only too well. As no bionic prostheses are produced within Russia, they have to be imported and quickly cost several tens of thousands of dollars – way beyond his own budget.

But instead of yielding to the tragedy, Lyashko did something about it. He developed a bionic prosthetic all by himself, using 3D printing and a lot of perseverance. “I still face a lot of difficulties during development, and it takes me a lot of time to create the MaxBionic prosthesis with the help of a 3D printer,” the engineer revealed. But it is very impressive. Perhaps most important, it costs just 80,000 rubles (about $1,000) to build and is comparable to imported non-3D printed bionic solutions.

Equally impressive is his positive attitude. “Thank god my brains have remained in place, because now I can develop the first Russian-made bionic prosthesis, which can help people everywhere,” he says. “Previously I absolutely never thought about prostheses, their forms, costs, or availability – just like the rest of the population. But life makes you understand. Fortunately, I’m an engineer and can at least partially restore my lost limb function.”

But it’s been a very long process to get there. After his tragic mining accident, Lyashko spent about 18 months in hospital – going in and out of the surgery room. But he also had time to think about his plans, and started working on his first prosthesis in late 2014. The first prototype was completed in just a few months, all paid for from his own pocket. You can see another prototype being tested on Nikolai below, who lost his arm in a car accident 15 years ago.

And the result is very impressive. In a nutshell, the MaxBionic works just like a regular hand – but replaces all muscles and tendons with steel cables and electric motors. Like many of the other 3D printed bionics out there, it picks up electric signals from the forearm using EMG sensors. Processed by a microcontroller, these signals are transformed into certain actions – gripping, releasing and so on. Obviously, this does mean that the prosthesis’s usefulness depends on the amputee’s condition. The more active muscles are left in the arm, the more sensors can be applied to the patient and the more useful the prosthesis and the grippers will be. Finally, all the parts are 3D printed for now – though the maker is envisioning industrial production through injection molding in the future.

What’s more, Russian patients will be happy to know that the MaxBionic is completely Russian. “I did not copy or take ready-made foreign components, but made everything from scratch. All the costly foreign-made parts are gone, and we even independently developed the PCB management system and software,” he argues. Through their special setup, it should also be quite easy to install everything on Russian computers. “This is my vision of a smart prosthesis that is completely in line with international standards,” Lyashko adds.

The MaxBionic is now almost completed. “We are still developing the sensors that help to operate the prosthesis. A patient feels that he has a phantom hand, and as he mentally tries to squeeze the hand muscles, this should send signals down his arm which are picked up by the sensors and set the prosthesis in motion,” Lyashko says. But once complete, he will share the complete project online as a Russian open source creation. “This means that all files, drawings, programs, schemes and instructions that are necessary for the manufacture of robotic prosthetic hand, will be published online. Even those people without special technical training can download the files and work to improve his life,” he adds.

To make that launch possible, Lyashko has now also set up a crowdfunding campaign on Boomstarter, the Russian Kickstarter equivalent. Attempting to raise 1.5 million ($23,700 USD) rubles by the end of July, he has already gathered about a third of that at the time of writing. As Boomstarter’s Anastasia Marishchuk said, this promising project has everything that crowdfunding is all about, and she hopes that it will be a huge success and will give thousands of people a chance at a normal life. If you’re interested and in Russia, you can back the campaign on Boomstarter here.

But Lyashko has emphasized that all of the gathered money will be spent on development and that MaxBionic will remain completely open source. “I get asked about this a lot, but I cannot cash in on the plight of so many desperate and depressed people. So I try to find and collect as much money as possible, purely with the intention of giving a Russian-made MaxBionic prosthesis to people that is as cheap as possible,” he concludes.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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