Team Open Bionics is creating low-cost, high-functioning prosthetics with open-source parts.
The great promise of technology is that it has the power to change lives, sometimes dramatically. And in the case of the Team Open Bionics’ entry, their Open Hand wearable project does exactly that.
A finalist in Intel’s Make It Wearable challenge, the team from West Bristol is seeking to create affordable but high-functioning prosthetics by utilizing readily available off-the-shelf technology.
“The prosthetics market at the moment has a couple of different classes of devices,” explains team member Joel Gibbard. “You have things like hooks operated by pulleys, and then at the really high end of the market you have really advanced robotic prosthetics.”
Gibbard says human hands are comprised of 29 bones, 34 muscles and 123 ligaments — which means a lot of parts working together. His team has created a prosthetic hand using the Intel Edison board in combination with their own circuit board to control the hand’s motors and adjust to signals from the amputee wearing the device.
“The hand itself is a marvel of ingenuity utilizing steel cables for tendons, electric motors for muscles, and 3D printed parts acting as skin and bone.”
Perhaps the most astounding part is that all of the hand parts are 3D printed using ABS endurable plastic instead of metals like titanium, which Gibbard points out makes the cost of a hand as low as a British pound.
Another of the team’s goals is to have the nuts and bolts be entirely open-source — meaning available and 3D-printable to the public. The affordability and accessibility speaks volumes about about the potential of what low-cost prosthetics could mean to amputees.
Sammy Payne, Open Bionics digital producer, said that the project is intensely personal. She explains how her friend needs a prosthetic hand, but can’t afford the $14,000 cost.
“All she wants to do is tie her hair back,” said Payne. Shouldn’t we all be able to do simple things like that?
Todd Krieger contributed this story.