Back at CES 2015, a young man by the named of Joel Gibbard made headlines with his company Open Bionics and a 3D printed prosthetic hand that he had created. Unlike most of the 3D printed prosthetics that we see today, Open Bionics is quite different. Instead of relying on an analogue system of motion like many of the more affordable e-NABLE style hands, Gibbard’s hands use electronics and arrays of sensors to distinguish myoelectric signals from a wearer’s muscle movements. These sensors send signals back to the hand telling fingers to move on a voluntary basis.
Over the past year or so, Gibbard’s design has continued to evolve, and more and more parties have been showing an interest in the device. When Open Bionics first set out to begin fabricating a myoelectric prosthetic hand on Kickstarter back in 2013, they surely never even considered that they may one day be nominated for an award as prestigious as the James Dyson Award.
It has now been officially announced that Open Bionics has won the UK leg of the Dyson Award, meaning they will progress to the next stage of the competition, which will see 100 entries from all around the world reduced to just 20 entrants on September 17, and then just 1 international winner on November 10. The winner of the award will take home a large sum of $45,000 plus an additional $7,500 for their university.
“We’ve encountered many challenges in designing our hands,” said Gibbard, “but the reactions of the individuals we help fuels our perseverance to bring them to market. My aim is for Open Bionics to disrupt the prosthetics industry by offering affordable prosthetics for all.”
Open Bionics’ hands are not quite as affordable as the analogue e-NABLE hands which can be made for around $50.00 each. However, they are still much more affordable than comparable prosthetic hands already available on the market which are priced between $30,000 and $50,000. Gibbard plans on selling his hands for just £2,000 per limb.
“We’re using lower-cost motors than they have in high-end devices, so the overall strength is lower,” Gibbard explained. “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.”
Gibbard’s hands are very lightweight, making them much more feasible for an individual to wear all day long without any issues. The design also lends itself to a lot of unique aspects, and the surface of the hand (“the skin”) can be customized to a wearer’s liking.
It should be interesting to continue to follow both Open Bionics in their endeavor to bring affordable myoelectric prosthetic hands to the masses, as well as the progression of the James Dyson Award. Will Open Bionics ultimately come out on top? Only time will tell. What do you think about Open Bionics? Discuss in the Open Bionics forum thread on 3DPB.com.