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3D-Printed Robotic Hand Wins UK Dyson Award


Photograph of the Open Bionics prosthetic hand courtesy of Open Bionics (www.openbionics.com).

A 3D-printed robotic hand developed by Joel Gibbard, founder of Open Bionics, has been awarded a $3,500 prize as the United Kingdom’s national winner of the 2015 James Dyson Award, which recognizes young designers. The Open Bionics hand will now be considered for the $45,000 international award; the winner will be announced in November.
The prosthesis is assembled from four manufactured parts and can be produced in 40 hours for just over $1,500. Soft robotics replicate the bones, ligaments, and skin of a biological hand, which helps keeps the weight of the prosthesis down and makes it more stable, according to the award submission. The hand is capable of individual finger movements through EMG sensors on the residual limb, including opening and closing to perform a pinch grip. Gibbard plans to make the files for the hand open source. “This is about driving a big change and democratizing technology,” he wrote in the submission.

According to an article in Wired.CO.UK, James Dyson praised the project for initiating a “step-change” in the development of robotics limbs. “Embracing a streamlined approach to manufacturing allows Joel’s design to be highly efficient, giving more amputees access to advanced prosthetics,” he was quoted as saying.

“We’re using lower-cost motors than they have in high-end devices, so the overall strength is lower,” Gibbard said in a BBC interview. “So we are testing it with users and household objects and trying to come to a compromise that means it is very affordable and still has enough power to do most of the stuff that people want.” He plans to begin selling the prosthesis next year for £2,000 (just over $3,000), including fitting.

“The original design was primarily made of different plastic parts that were screwed and bolted together along with off-the-shelf components,” he told the BBC. “It took a very long time to build, and because it was all made of plastic it was subject to a lot of weak points where it could break. The new design is made of thermoplastic elastomer…so we’re able to print something in far fewer pieces and then have flexible joints.”

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