A British inventor who is creating low-cost, advanced robotic hands that are inspired by superheroes and comic books has won the UK round of the James Dyson Award. Bristol-born Joel Gibbard of Open Bionics set out to make low-cost robotic hands that amputees would want to show off after he became terrified as a teenager about what would happen if he one day lost a hand.
The prototype he’s created can be produced for substantially less than the cost of other robotic hands, using 3D printing, Gibbard says.
“The wait time for a custom-fit prosthetic device can be weeks or months,” Gibbard says about his robotic hand. He will charge £2,000 ($3,157) for them, while similar hands can cost up to £60,000.
“By using 3D scanning and 3D printing we can radically reduce this waiting time. I have 3D scanned an amputee and 3D printed them a custom-fit socket and robotic hand in under a week,” he says.
Spurred on by a desire to make young amputees proud of their limb differences, Gibbard quit his well-paid job on an engineering graduate scheme, opting to crowdfund the development of the 3D-printed hands, eventually raising £44,000 mostly from hand amputees and their friends and families.
“The problem became more personal for me after meeting Liam, who is a professional chef and wanted a robotic prosthetic hand to help him in the kitchen, and 6-year-old Charlotte, who lost all her limbs to meningitis and currently isn’t using any hand prosthetics because they’re all too ‘ugly’ and ‘heavy’ for her,” he says.
So far, Open Bionics has produced 10 of the robotic hands, with a number of pre-orders lined up. It’s controlled by the amputee using sensors, which are stuck to the skin, meaning that as they flex their residual muscles the hand responds.
The robotic hand project wins prize money of £2,000 and advances to the international James Dyson Award competition where it will compete against the winners of 20 other national finals. A device for the visually impaired that positions a phone so that it can scan text on paper accurately was among the runners up in the UK.