Many organizations have arisen for the purpose of 3D printing prosthetic devices, but one of the most advanced of them is Open Bionics, a UK company that creates not just simple 3D printed prosthetics but bionic devices. Last year, Open Bionics released the first 3D printed bionic arm to be officially medically approved, and now the company has announced that it has raised about £5 million from investors that include the owners of Formula One Team Williams. The recent funding round was led by Williams Advanced Engineering’s venture fund, Foresight Williams Technology, with participation from Ananda Impact Ventures and current investor Downing Ventures.
“We’re exceptionally excited to receive this support from such high calibre investors who not only offer financial backing but incredible experience,” said Open Bionics Chief Operating Officer Samantha Payne.
Open Bionics has previously raised money from Disney’s venture capital arm and has worked with Disney to design variations of its “Hero Arm,” geared toward children, which can be customized to resemble superhero arms. Variations include designs inspired by Frozen, Marvel Comics and Star Wars. Children as young as nine years old can be outfitted with the 3D printed robotic hands, which can perform actions like gripping, giving an “OK” sign, high fiving and fist bumping. The most recent models can perform delicate tasks like picking up a marble or Lego.
The company launched private sales in May 2018 and has been working with the National Health Service for two years to bring its 3D printed bionic arms to clinics. The prosthetic devices cost about £10,000, which is about a third of the cost of traditionally manufactured equivalents. 3D scanning and 3D printing has allowed Open Bionics to save a great deal of money on production, as well as to create devices that fit their wearers perfectly.
According to Payne, the new funding will help Open Bionics expand its products to new markets, including the United States, later this year. Founder Joel Gibbard said that the funding will provide “crucial capital” to make bionic prosthetic devices “available to a much wider audience.” Open Bionics has already been working with the NHS to be able to bring the devices to more people, as well as the Bristol Centre for Enablement and Bath University. Its second stage clinical trial will involve multiple NHS clinics around the United Kingdom.
Matthew Burke, head of technology ventures at Williams, said that Open Bionics will also benefit from the Formula One company’s engineering and technical expertise to further develop its products.
Open Bionics not only makes advanced prosthetic devices more affordable, it also makes them more acceptable to children, who are so conscious of anything that makes them “different.” Rather than being ashamed of their prosthetics, the recipients of Hero Arms have worn them with pride, seeing them as something cool and unique rather than embarrassing. That’s just as important, for a child, as having a device that fits properly and is comfortable. With this new funding, Open Bionics will be able to reach even more children, allowing them access to prosthetics they can be proud of.
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