The future of bionics is in his hands.
It was the second of two profiles that I had in that edition of Wired.
When it comes to prosthetic hands, options are limited: a rigid cosmetic attachment; an awkward hook; or a heavy, expensive robotic appendage. Joel Gibbard believes there’s another way.
“We want to offer something that’s functional but looks far better than a hook,” says the 25-year-old CEO of Bristol-based Open Bionics. “We’re going for the same functionality as the £65,000 prosthetic [the US-based Touch Bionics’ iLimb] but in a lighter, more personalised package.”
Open Bionics’ 3D-printed hand will cost only £2,000 and, unlike most custom prosthetics, the entire design — not just the socket — will be tailored to the user. The bold, brightly coloured design avoids attempting to imitate the appearance of the human hand.
“We realised that people actually like looking and being different now,” explains Gibbard, who says his passion for robotics began while playing with LEGO Technic as a child.
First iteration — Older prostheses (not by Gibbard) lack articulation
Early models — Visual prototypes are built to play with appearance
Moving parts — Newer, functioning models – the red one is the latest
Waiting times for a new prosthetic typically run to around a month. Open Bionics can 3D print the custom parts in 40 hours, assemble them in two, and have the entire process, from scan to fitting, completed in less than a week.
“The challenge,” Gibbard says, “is to do this in an hour.” The company has made 13 prototypes so far; this autumn will be the first time they are tested with three volunteers set to wear the hands home, first for a fortnight and then for a couple of months.
Development was funded through a £43,593 Indiegogo campaign — followed by $120,000 (£76,000) from Disney’s accelerator programme. Open Bionics plans to start selling the custom-made hands in the second half of 2016, though the designs will remain open source, allowing anyone in the world to not only print their own hand, but also to suggest improvements for future iterations.
The next step, Gibbard says, is to allow future owners to have the capability to print and replace fingers through the use of snap-fit sockets. Give that man a hand.