Image: Open Bionics
A 3D printed prosthetic hand made from thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) has won this year’s National James Dyson Award.
Bristol-born Joel Gibbard, a graduate in robotics from Plymouth University, says the printed hand allows prosthetics for amputees to be produced more quickly and affordably than conventional robotic products.
By using rapid prototyping techniques, Gibbard says he can 3D scan an amputee and produce a lightweight, bespoke socket and hand in less than two days, knocking weeks or months of the normal waiting times for such items.
Gibbard and his company, Open Bionics, started the project via a crowd-funding project and has 10 design revisions, with the number of separate plastic parts radically reduced.
“The design utilises ‘soft robotics’ to take advantage of an extremely lightweight and low-cost manufacturing process and completely disrupt the prosthetics industry,” he explained.
“The hand is 3D printed in a flexible material, which means an entire hand can be created with just four manufactured parts. This reduces assembly time without compromising on design, since the hand can have a fluid and natural external appearance and be printed in any colour.”
Folllowing extensive research with amputees, Gibbard and his team discovered that there was a bigger desire for lightweight prosthetics that were more aesthetically pleasing than functionally advanced.
“We found that having a lightweight prosthetic trumped having an advanced robotic hand,” Gibbard continued.
“Amputees were far more concerned with the weight and the look of the hand than they were with the amount of dexterity it had. After discovering this I changed the focus from fine, precise finger movements to aesthetic and weight saving design. I'm now more focused on treating the robotic hands as interchangeable tools and even fashion accessories.”
Open Bionics is now looking to combine multiple materials to replicate bones, ligaments and skin within the hand. This, says Gibbard, will reduce the weight further and will help to maintain a low weight and structural stability in children's hands.
The company is now in the running for the international stage of the competition, where it will compete against other national winners from around the world. It is also continuing to develop the product, which it hopes to start selling from 2016.