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Open Bionics has performed a world-first by fitting a person born without a hand with a 3D scanned and 3D printed, custom-fitted prosthetic socket, and robotic hand.
24-year-old engineer and Open Bionics founder, Joel Gibbard used commercially available technology he found online to fit Daniel Melville with his first robotic prosthetic hand.
This is the first time Joel's robotic hand has been used as a prosthetic.
Daniel, 23, from Reading, was born without a right hand and contacted Joel after seeing his crowd-funding campaign to develop affordable robotic hands last year.
The whole of Daniel's family backed Joel's campaign, and Daniel volunteered to help with Joel's initial test period last week, bringing his older brother Jonny Melville along to watch.
Daniel said: “It's just too hard to explain at home. You have to see it to get how awesome it is, so I had to bring him.”
Jonny watched and took photos as his younger brother moved around the room picking up objects and manipulating them with his robotic hand.
The thrilled older brother said: “Shaking Daniel's hand was incredible. It didn't even feel like a robot hand, the way it gripped me, it felt just like Dan was shaking my hand.”
In just 20 minutes Joel scanned Daniel's right arm using a 3D sensor, created a 3D mesh of it, and set up his 3D printer to print Daniel a custom-fitted prosthetic socket.
Although 3D scanning and 3D printing a prosthetic socket has been done before, it was the first time anyone has used the technique to custom fit a 3D printed robotic hand.
The socket, which fit the first time it was printed, took 40 hours to print, and it was the first time Joel had used the 3D scanning software. This is a dramatic reduction in time and cost for the prosthetics industry.
Daniel said: “It fitted like a glove. I can't believe how easy that was. Usually, I'd have to have a mold taken of my arm and then wait weeks or months to get the socket. Last time I had a socket mold on my arm they burnt me taking it off, so this is much nicer.”
Joel was happily surprised, saying: “I didn't expect it to come out so well and fit perfectly. But I am going to change the design a bit in future.”
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21-year-old Olly McBride, who studies Robotics at UWE, has been working as a programmer for Open Bionics.
Olly connected the robotic hand to Daniel's muscle signals and said: “The best part was seeing the excitement on Dan's face, as he went round trying to pick up everything he could.”
“I never really understood how rewarding it would be. It's not just a product that people buy for a bit of fun and then get bored of, this product will play a major part in their lives.”
Daniel said he stopped wearing his cosmetic prosthetic hand after it kept 'getting in the way' and wished he had a robotic prosthetic hand that looked 'cool' when he was younger.
He added: “This is great now and it will continue to get better but it would have been amazing to have this when I was younger. I would have loved a 3D printed Power Ranger hand. It would have made me feel better about my difference, I think. There are robotic hands out there that I can buy now but they're more expensive than my car. Who can afford that?”
Joel said: “It was heartwarming to see something I've been working on for a year give someone some extra capabilities. Watching Dan write, pick things up, and just play with stuff was pretty exciting for everyone. I did get to shake the hand I made on Dan and it was a bit surreal.”
“The next hand I've designed weighs half the amount as that prototype which will make a huge difference for the user and it looks far better.”
Joel admitted he was afraid he was going to be guilty of 'over-engineering' his open source robotic hands.
He said: “I'm not going to be able to stop until I've made something that is perfect. It has to be light-weight, low-cost, and creative. It has to offer something.”
“We have some quirky designs for children's hands that will encourage younger amputees to feel good about their difference.”
Patrick Brinson, who also studies Robotics at UWE and works as an electronics engineer for Open Bionics said the first testing stage was 'very touching' to see.
The 22-year-old undergraduate said: “It was great seeing for the first time the mechanical, electronic, and software working as one to give Dan the ability to have a hand he can control. It will give him the ability to do tasks most of us take for granted.”
Patrick added: “It was a great insight into seeing how modern technology can be used to help those less fortunate than others, if there were only more people like Joel in the world putting technology to good use. I can’t wait to see how Open Bionics will change hundreds of people’s lives across the world and I'll be here to help along every step of development.”
Open Bionics, which is based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, one of the world's leading centers for robotics, hopes to have an affordable robotic prosthetic on the market next year.
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