A 3D printed robotic hand prototype from Open Bionics has demonstrated how advanced prosthetics can be manufactured cheaply, and has won the UK leg of the 2015 James Dyson Award.
The robotic hand project was undertaken by 25-year-old Plymouth University graduate and founder of Open Bionics, Joel Gibbard. It was created at a cost of £1,000, significantly less than the £3,000 to £60,000 range of standard bionic prosthetics.
The prototype can be manufactured in 40 hours and assembled from just four parts using 3D printing techniques, yet is able to perform the same tasks as more expensive models.
These include individual finger movements through the use of electromyographical sensors stuck to the skin of an amputee.
Using a flexible material for the 3D printing process means that the robotic hand can withstand hard knocks and falls, which should make it more durable than the expensive alternatives which are known to last only three to five years.
Open Bionics and Gibbard will receive £2,000 for winning the James Dyson Award, which will be put towards a new 3D printer to speed up the prototyping process.
Gibbard said in his submission pitch for the award that his aim is to bring the bionic hand out of the prototype stage and into the market where it can aid limb replacement for amputees who struggle to adapt to more cumbersome prosthetics.
"The problem of current robotic prosthetics is their financial barriers. The only alternative to a robotic prosthetic is a cosmetic hand that is functionless and heavy, or an alienating hook," he said.
"I plan to sell the hands and release the open source files so that as many people as possible can benefit from the technology. This is about driving a big change and democratising technology."
Dyson founder and award patron James Dyson explained that the work by Open Bionics shows an innovative use of 3D printing.
"3D printing has been used by engineers as a prototyping tool for decades, but Joel is using it in a new way to provide cheaper, more advanced prosthetics for amputees. It shows how bold ideas don't need a big budget, and if successful his technology will improve lives around the world," he said.
Gibbard and Open Bionics will go on to compete in the international stage of the Dyson Award for a £30,000 prize to be used for the development of the winning invention.
Advances in robotics are accelerating at a rapid pace, and Google recently showcased a 6ft running robot called Atlas.
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