“Shaking Daniel’s hand was incredible. It didn’t even feel like a robot hand, the way it gripped me, it felt just like Dan was shaking my hand,” said Jonny Melville after shaking his younger brother’s hand for the very first time.
Shaking hands may seem like something only politicians look forward to, but for those experiencing it for the first time at age 23, it’s something much bigger than a simple greeting (or schmoozing). Daniel Melville was born without a right hand — but thanks to Open Bionics, the now 24-year-old has been shaking hands almost non-stop since he got his 3D printed robotic hand.
Melville was Open Bionics’ first pilot for their 3D printed hand, and is now the proud hand-shaking, high-fiving, fist-bumping owner of a fully functional robotic right hand. The original prosthetic he received from Open Bionics, was a show of just how speedy and customizable 3D scanning technology is for such an application; it took only 20 minutes for his right arm to be fully scanned with a 3D sensor. From there, Open Bionics created a 3D mesh then 3D printed a custom prosthetic socket for the new hand.
At last month’s CES in Las Vegas, Open Bionics had Melville wear his 3D printed robotic hand for five straight days, and it certainly seems he was able to run through full functioning tests of it. If the video at the bottom of this page is any indication, Melville spent quite a bit of time pressing the flesh, as it were, and showing the gripping capabilities of his robotic hand as he engaged in the natural movements of a handshake. As his brother Jonny had noted at Daniel’s very first fitting, the handshakes he gives don’t feel like trying to grasp a mannequin, but feel just like any normal handshake, with full finger-closing, hand-gripping motion.
“I was feeling pretty emotional being there because it has been an amazing thing to be a part of,” said Daniel Melville. “Because I was born without a hand, essentially I’ve been learning to use a hand for the first time, it’s really surreal. I kept shaking hands with people, and they kept asking to high-five, fist-bump, and take photos with me. It was really nice seeing how people reacted to my robotic hand, nobody shied away and I felt like I was making up for lost time.”
The hand, impressive in itself, is even moreso considering its source. Inventor Joel Gibbard, only 24 years old himself, has already won a Best Product Innovation award, and the 3D printed robotic hand is being touted as the “world’s most advanced” such prosthesis. The award, from Germany’s Computer Bild, ranked this hand as tops out of all of CES’ exhibitions. And Gibbard is certainly not one to rest on his laurels upon receiving this prestigious consideration; the inventor is already considering future iterations and improvements.
Next on the table for the prosthesis are making it wireless, able to do more heavy lifting and small-object grasping, among other conveniences. “Our next step,” said Gibbard, “is to have a fully integrated hand that is one unit. It has to be so easy-to-use that Dan can just pick it up, put it on, start using it immediately without any wires, and then re-charge it at night.”
While more improvements would certainly be welcome, for right now, the device’s principal user seems pretty well pleased. “I just put the prosthetic on, plug in the battery pack, and stick on the EMG [electromygraphical] sensors,” Melville noted. The device’s EMG sensors record the muscle activity of the user, which is used to operate the hand. “I’d say it took me about two minutes to get used to it and the sensors didn’t stop working for the whole trip,” he added. This positive review from his experience at CES will directly feed into the work being done to improve the wearing experience even further.
Of course, cost considerations also come into play for individuals seeking prosthetic devices — and Gibbard is taking that into account as well. The goal is for these advanced robotic devices to cost less than $1,000, which is only a fraction of the cost of traditionally manufactured prosthetics. The 3D scanning and 3D printing processes cut costs across the board, as well as reduce the usually inherent process of trial and error that many amputees and other individuals missing limbs face when fitting a new prosthesis. Gibbard has had success in reducing the entire timeline — from scanning to printing to fitting — for a brand new customized prosthesis to less than a week, previously seeing a turnaround time of less than five days.
“It was interesting to watch someone adjust to wearing a bionic device, in the way that they used it naturally, and without thinking about it,” said Gibbard. “Seeing Dan wearing the hand was a motivator because I saw that he could actually use it, and that it would be a benefit to him, just like we hoped it would. We could also see clearer the issues with it, that we now have to solve. It’s a big push forward for us.”
Let us know what you think of this fantastic hand over in the Robotic Hand forum thread at 3DPB.com. Check out a video below of Daniel shaking hands with attendees at CES.