Could Science Technology revolutionize modern prosthetics?
A company that makes affordable robotic hands using 3D printers just won the prestigious James Dyson Award. The prosthetic limbs respond to muscle flexing, Olly McBride of Open Bionics explains on a BBC news clip as he showcases a current research prototype. This works by using signals detectable by utilizing a type of science technology: electromyography (EMG) sensors attached to the wearer’s skin. A single flex opens the fingers and two can form a pinch.
One of the most remarkable things about the device is how affordable it is; while similar prostheses can cost amputees up to $50,000, Open Bionics plans to sell their product for around $3,000. Also remarkable is the speed with which the company aims to make its limbs available. While it may take weeks to custom fit an existing prosthetic to a patient, the company will use modern science technology to create the prosthesis. 3D printers scan the arm and create a new hand within two days.
While the prototype pictured is plain plastic, 25-year-old inventor Joel Gibbard said that the hand will eventually have a different aesthetic.
“(It) is basically a skeleton with a ‘skin’ on top,” Gibbard said. “So, we can do different things to the skin – we can put patterns on it, we can change the styling and design.”
After conducting research among prosthetic users, Gibbard and his team found that the weight and aesthetic appearance of the device was more important than they first estimated. Rather than one hand that remains in use at all times, an amputee might prefer several that can be switched out.
Gibbard goes on to explain that the lower cost does mean using less expensive motors, which can translate to a weaker grip than what some devices are able to achieve. The hands are powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
Open Bionics will receive £2,220 for the UK engineering portion of the Dyson Award, or nearly 3,500 US dollars. The company first began as a crowdfunded project called The Open Hand back in 2013. Now, they’ve made their innovations in science technology readily available by making their designs “open source.” This means that anyone can use them provided that they share any improvements or updates made on the original.
Activity to raise interest in science technology: Sit down with a pen and pencil and spend a moment trying to create a realistic drawing of your own hand, studying how every joint connects. It’s very difficult, isn’t it? Human hands are extremely complex, making them especially hard to replicate, even on paper.
Potential Science Technology Jobs: Robotics Engineer, Reconstructive Surgeon, Inventor, Automation Technician