In many fantasy and sci-fi narratives, there’s a point where reality is pushed aside and a fantastical future is introduced. Often, this turn happens when the only way to solve the problem at hand is to utilize some amazing, futuristic technology. The 3D printing of medical device prototypes is, in a lot of ways, similar—when we encounter a problem, we can now think up and print out a solution. The only difference between our Star Trek-y fantasies and the 3D printing of medical devices is, of course, that 3D printing solutions are are a reality.
Affordable 3D-Printed Hands for Amputees
Using computer graphics of existing hands, Open Bionics hopes to make affordable, 3D-printed hands available for purchase in the next decade or so. The company’s ambition comes in part from their comprehensive understanding of how brain signals activate body parts. By utilizing specific materials in their printing, the company is able to create customizable, 3D-printed hands. The hands are completely functional.
Similar to regular body parts, robotic hands are controlled via electrodes connecting them to a person’s brain. When we reach out to, say, pick up a cup, our brains automatically send electrical signals that tell our wrists to rotate, our fingers to splay open, and our hands to wrap around the cup. Robotic technology can now artificially recreate that bridge. As reported by The Mary Sue, it is now even possible to connect the electrodes in robotic arms to allow their users to actually feel what they’re touching.
There are nearly 2 million people in the United States living and adapting to life as amputees. Open Bionics is determined to improve their quality of life by streamlining the bionic 3D-hand-printing process to be effective, precise, and economically viable.
3D Printing for Everyone
In the early stages of 3D printing, a printed body part could cost someone hundreds of thousands of dollars. As 3D prototype printing is integrated with a wider range of materials (like advanced polymers and living tissue), it will be more plausible to mass-produce 3D-printed hands of all sizes, shapes, and designs. A new printed hand could someday be as affordable as a pair of designer shoes.
Overcoming the Socio-Tech Gap
Obviously, 3D printing has our attention. However, it is still a relatively new endeavor, and the majority of the public doesn’t know too much about it. We also recognize the trust gap, too—even though the technology is surely improving, a lot of us have a hard time believing 3D printing is as capable as it promises to be.
Open Bionics believes that they’ll be able to create these fully functional 3D-printed hands in about two days. More impressively, they hope to sell the hands for less than $1,000. This means that—if they are successful—their robotic hands will become viable solutions for millions of amputees around the world, changing the game in the medical device prototyping industry.
Like what you see? Head on over to Open Bionics Facebook page to stay up to date on this developing prototype!