Whilst it might quite heavily resemble the bionic arm set to be worn by Solid Snake in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5 (and yes I am BEYOND pumped for next Tuesday), this particular bionic hand hasn’t been designed as an instrument of war, but as a legitimate, cost-effective replacement limb for amputees. It was created by 25-year-old Plymouth University robotics graduate Joel Gibbard, who was recently awarded £2,000 for his bold design after winning the UK leg of the James Dyson Award; the international design award for recent design engineering graduates that rewards work which celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.
Joel Gibbard recently won the UK leg of the James Dyson Award for his 3D printed bionic hand
What makes the “Open Bionics” open source robotic hand so special, is that it’s not been built, but has been printed. The hand can reportedly be 3D printed in less than 40 hours, and costs less than £1000 to make, which is pretty staggering considering that even entry-level prosthetics tend to cost between £3,000 and £60,000! Of course, the hand isn’t simply a copy and paste job, and anyone experienced in 3D printing will tell you there is far more to it than simply pressing print and letting the machine crack on with it. It’s far less complex, however, than many similar 3D printed objects, having been assembled from just four different manufactured parts. According to its designers, the finished product can perform the same tasks as significantly more expensive prosthetics, including individual finger movement controlled by sensors which are stuck to the amputees’ skin.
Open Bionics saw off a host of worthy competitors to win the Dyson Award’s UK leg. These included a toolkit that encourages the development of new antibiotics, a kitchen sink system that separates fats, oils and grease from water, and a device for automatically collecting wet leaves from the ground (more useful than it sounds, trust me). With his £2,000 prize, Gibbard says he will buy a new 3D printer, which he hopes will speed up the prototyping process so that he can eventually cut down the manufacturing (if you want to call it that) time even further. As the UK winner, he will also go forward for the international Dyson Award, which has a top prize of £30,000. The shortlist of 20 for the international award will be announced on 17 September, with the winner to be announced at a later date. Last year’s International Dyson Award winner was the MOM low-cost inflatable baby incubator, developed by Loughborough University graduate James Roberts, which apparently costs just £250 to manufacture, test and transport to its desired location.
The hand can reportedly be 3D printed in less than 40 hours, and costs less than £1000 to make
Gibbard said: “We’ve encountered many challenges in designing our hands 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.” Sir James Dyson, award founder and inventor of the titular bag-less vacuum cleaner, added: “3D printing has been used by engineers as a prototyping tool for decades, but Joel is using it in a new way to provide cheaper, more advanced prosthetics for amputees. It shows how bold ideas don’t need a big budget and if successful his technology will improve lives around the world.” Personally, I can’t commend Mr Gibbard highly enough for using a 3D printer to solve a genuine problem. My mate has one and has thus far only used it to print silly little trinkets for his girlfriend. It’s truly amazing what such forward-thinking designers and engineers can create with this relatively new and still misunderstood tool though, and I can’t wait to see what the world of 3D printing churns out next!
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.