Open Bionics, maker of a 3D-printed robotic hand that can be made faster and at a much lower cost than current alternatives, has won the 2015 James Dyson Award in the UK.
Started by Joel Gibbard, Open Bionics can 3D-scan an amputee and build them a custom-fit hand in less than two days. This is certainly much faster than most other prosthetics on the market, which can take weeks or months to make.
But Open Bionics has also found a way to create the robotic hands at a much lower cost. The company says other available options cost around $100,000 while its 3D-printed hands can cost under $1,000 per hand. Gibbard hopes to start selling the product in the second half of 2016.
“The problem of current robotic prosthetics is their financial barriers. The only alternative to a robotic prosthetic is a cosmetic hand that is function-less and heavy, or an alienating hook,” Gibbard says. “I can 3D print a robotic prosthetic hand inspired by comic books and superheros that hand amputees enjoy showing off for a fraction of the price.”
The hands work by connecting into the muscles in the upper forearm. Myoelectric sensors are used to take messages from the muscles and uses them to control the hand.
“We have a device at the lower-end of the pricing scale and the upper end of functionality,” Gibbard tells BBC. “At the same time it is very lightweight and it can be customized for each person. The hand is basically a skeleton with a ‘skin’ on top. So, we can do different things to the skin – we can put patterns on it, we can change the styling and design. There’s quite a lot of flexibility there.”
The UK engineering prize includes a 2,220 pound ($3,501) reward and comes with the chance to compete for an international title worth $45,000.
“By using rapid prototyping techniques, Joel has initiated a step-change in the development of robotic limbs,” James Dyson, the British inventor behind the award, says in a statement. “Embracing a streamlined approach to manufacturing allows Joel’s design to be highly efficient, giving more amputees’ access to advanced prosthetics.”
Gibbard (right) has been working on prosthetic hands since he was 17, initially considering it “just as a fun thing to do”.