Mar 29, 2018 | By Tess

A group of students from the University of Manchester is lending a helping hand by designing a low-cost 3D printed robotic hand. The 3D printed prosthetic can be made for as little as £307 ($430), and is capable of performing a range of functions.

As a writer for a 3D printing website, I come across a lot of inspiring 3D printed prosthetic stories: parents 3D printing hands for their children, people coming together to help out someone in need, and whole organizations dedicated to distributing affordable prosthetics to developing regions of the world.

In other words, it takes quite a lot to fully grab my attention. But a team of students from the University of Manchester in the UK have done just that with their innovative design for a low-cost 3D printed robotic hand.

Unlike many 3D printed prosthetic designs on the market which are capable of one main motion—grabbing—this 3D printed prosthetic has the ability to move and pose each individual finger. So while the 3D printed hand is built to let its wearer grab things, it also enables them to do more delicate tasks, such as eat with a knife and fork, use a computer, pick up a phone, and even play a round of rock-paper-scissors.

The 3D printed hand isn’t just being lauded by us, however, as its design was recently named the “best new development” by the Digital Innovation Challenge at the Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo in Manchester.

There, Mechanical Engineering master’s student Alex Agboola-Dobson and his team (who came up with the 3D printed hand design) were recognized for the functional and low-cost prosthetic.

As mentioned, the 3D printed robotic prosthetic was put together for just over £300, which is peanuts compared to the cost of traditional prosthetics with integrated robotics (which run into the tens of thousands of dollars). Even more amazing, Agboola-Dobson and his colleagues are confident they can reduce the cost of the 3D printed hand even more.

But low cost wasn’t the team’s only priority in designing the 3D printed hand.

“Not only do we want to make [the prosthetic] affordable,” explained Agboola-Dobson. “We want people to actually like the look of it and not be ashamed or embarrassed of using or wearing it. Some traditional prosthetics can both look and feel cumbersome or, those that don’t, are extremely expensive. We think our design really can make a difference and we will be looking to commercialize the project in the future.”

The 3D printed prosthetic is controlled by muscle sensors which can be placed on the wearer’s arm. If the wearer moves their arm muscles in a certain way, the arm will respond with the according action. The simple but sophisticated setup is also connected to a smartphone app and comes with Bluetooth connectivity. The app allows the user to customize the 3D printed hand’s functionality.

Presently, the 3D printed components of the prosthetic are being manufactured using SLA 3D printing, which uses a UV light source to solidify layers of a photopolymer resin. Interestingly, the UK-based team is thinking of switching to using FDM 3D printing to lower the cost of the prosthetic even more.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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