Open Bionics is a company located in Bristol, United Kingdom, that develops affordable and assistive devices to enhance the human body. Founded by Samantha Payne and Joel Gibbard in 2014, the company started by introducing stylish bionic arms called “Hero Arms”, and, later on, they started developing upper limb prostheses such as grippers, hooks, and more.
It all started when Joel, at the age of 17, began experimenting with robotic hands once they captured his imagination. In 2018, both Samantha and Joel were named as the 2018 Hottest Startup Founders at The Europa Awards. Today, they’re pioneering a “new bionic age inspired by science fiction.”
The Hero Arm its the first 3D printed bionic arm to get clinical approval. It has a multi-grip functionality, and the aesthetics also make it unique. This bionic arm is lightweight, affordable and available in the US and France.
Back in Tallahassee, Florida, Bella Tadlock, an 11-year-old amputee, has been raising around $14,000 for her bionic Hero Arm. Her fundraising was successful and, as Bella is a Star Wars fan, she received the first advanced multi-grip arm made in the style of R2-D2. Open Bionics has a royalty-free licensing agreement with Lucasfilm, which enables them to produce bionic arms with Star Wars cover designs. But Bella didn’t just get her Hero Arm. She also received a phone call from Mark Hamill, who plays Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies.
Bella’s fundraising had caught Mark’s eye back in November. After hearing that Bella successfully reached her goal, Mark tweeted: “Following a successful fundraising campaign, Bella became the first person in the United States to receive the advanced multi-grip arm in the style of R2-D2.”
Mark had a Skype call with Bella, where she demonstrated how her new bionic arm worked. She picked up a bottle and exchanged “OK” signs together. The actor told Bella: “I’m so proud of you. So happy that you were able to have this happen for you”. Bella also had the chance to ask Mark lots of fan questions she had about Star Wars.
The bionic arm is truly a life changer for Bella. She was born without her right fingers, and her left arm is shorter than her right. After several operations, Bella now has three fingers and a thumb on her right hand. But for her left hand, she wanted a non-surgical option.
“I will be able to ride my bike, cook in the kitchen and be like my friends. To be able to bend my fingers and pick things up is a dream come true,” she said.
“This is completely life-changing. Since Isabella was adopted at a few weeks old she has overcome huge obstacles and endured many surgeries. Now she has a hand, with no surgery and no pain. I’m so grateful to Open Bionics and Hanger Clinic. Bella likes Luke Skywalker because he lost a hand and was adopted like her,” Pamela Tadlock, Bella’s mother, said.
“We’re delighted that Bella loves her new R2-D2 arm, and it’s fantastic that Mark Hamill, who is a role model to limb-different children worldwide, is so proactive in letting these kids know that they have the admiration and support of one of the galaxy’s biggest heroes,” said Samanta, Open Bionics co-founder.
The Hero Arm works by picking up signals from muscles in the residual limb, with intuitive lifelike precision. Apart from being stylish, it’s powered by high-performance motors. It’s made with advanced software and long-lasting batteries. The hand weighs around 280 – 346g, and the complete arm weights less than 1kg. As this bionic hand is partially 3D printed, it is lighter.
This hand also has multiple detachable grips, such as hooks, pinches, fists, for full control and outstanding versatility. As the Hero Arm is custom built depending on the patient’s need, it comes in different sizes, and has three layouts for the hands, and two layouts for the arms. It comes with either a 3 Motor or 4 Motor Hand, depending on what’s suitable for the patient, but the only difference is the size and number of tendons. All sockets are designed and then 3D printed according to the patient’s 3D scan of their arm.
However, Hero Arms are not cheap. The price starts at around $3,000 and goes up to $13,060. Yet, the price is a third of the cost of traditionally manufactured prosthetics equivalents, which can cost up to $95,000. And it’s important to mention that Open Bionics fits and 3D prints these arms in about 40 hours, compared to the weeks and months it takes for similar prosthetics.[Source: ITV, Open Bionics]
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