3D printing has opened the way for advancements in many fields, including 3D printing prosthetic hands. Combining affordability with precise technology, these promising projects are working to make these prosthetic hands even more accessible to those who need them, changing hundreds if not thousands of lives.
With their slogan of “turning disabilities into superpowers”, this UK-based start-up offers the world’s first clinically-tested and FDA-registered 3D printed prosthetic hand: the Hero Arm.
Though no specifics are offered on the site, the arm is supposedly less than half the price of comparable arms and takes about 40 hours to 3D print.
Each arm is custom-built and printed to fit the user’s arm as well as their sense of style. In fact, Open Bionics holds the Guiness World Record for creating the first prosthetic limb based on a video game (Adam Jensen’s hand from Deus Ex).
Named one of Europe’s hottest start-ups in 2018 at the Europa Awards, the company is based in the UK but also operates in France and the USA. In January 2019, they raised 4.9 million pounds ($6.1 million) in Series A funding, and show no signs of losing steam.
The coolest part is, as its name suggests, Open Bionics open-sources a lot of its technology. This includes printable STL files for different robotic hands. Check out their downloads page!
e-Nable is a global network of volunteers that are passionate about 3D printing hands for those in need. Perhaps the biggest and first community effort to 3D print prosthetics out there, e-Nable began with just a handful of people and one design in 2013 and quickly grew to its 7000+ members today.
Anyone can download more than 10 different designs for arms from their site, complete with instructions for 3D printing, assembly, and any modifications needed. The most popular design is the Phoenix Hand, created by a researcher at Shandong University based on other open-source designs.
The prosthetics are designed by members of the community and are improved on regularly. Each has a different look and purpose, accommodating wrists, elbows, and even fingers.
What’s most amazing is that this large community is based solely on volunteers from all over the globe. These volunteers work together to exchange ideas and discuss improvements in 3D printed prosthetics. Check out the new official e-Nable forum to join the dialogue!
Finally, e-Nable is always accepting donations. This money goes to sponsoring hands for those in need, buying materials for assembly, and keeping the site going.
Limbitless Solutions is an organization founded by graduates from the University of Central Florida that has designed and 3D printed bionic arms for over 20 kids. The arms use electromyographic (EMG) technology to detect electrical impulses from the user’s muscles, which then control the hand and arm movement. This is in contrast with most 3D printed prosthetics, which, for example, rely on mechanical movement to open and close the hand.
Other than providing prosthetics hands, the company also conducts research in other areas and actively works to empower those with limb differences. Among other things, they’ve developed video games to help new users learn how to control their new EMG-powered arms in a fun and engaging way.
Another interesting endeavor named “Project Xavier” aims to design an EMG-controlled wheelchair that can be driven hands-free, adapting the same technology used to control their bionic arms.
Started in 2014, the group has grown from a student-led initiative to a full-blown non-profit organization. In 2019, they announced a multi-year partnership with 3D printing giant Stratasys. Together, they hope to “design and deliver the best possible bionic arms for children in the United States and around the globe,” according to Albert Manero, Limbitless CEO and co-founder.
It can be very difficult for young children to get prosthetic hands. For one thing, each hand must be replaced as kids outgrow them, a very expensive task. In addition, prosthetics available are usually limited to passive limbs that can’t actually move.
To solve this, Ben Ryan established Ambionics, which creates a 3D printed movable arm fitted for small children. His design utilizes a bulb of fluid under the armpit that opens and closes the thumb.
Armed with an Xbox scanner and 3D printer, he estimates that each arm costs between $150 and $250 – much cheaper than most on the market. Thanks to the power of 3D printing, it takes less than a week to remodel and print a new arm once the child grows out of it.
“If you haven’t mastered a prosthetic by two and a half, it will be very cumbersome to do so,” Ryan said to CNN. He hopes that his arm will help children around the world until they are ready for more complicated devices.
Most recently, Ryan has been working to raise awareness for 3D printed and child prosthetics. In 2018, Ambionics announced plans to open a free clinic in Ecuador in collaboration with the Riobamba Polytechnic College. In addition, he has spoken at several events in the past few years, including at Microsoft in August 2019.
Students at the University of Manchester have developed an ultra-cheap hand prosthetic with a surprising amount of functionality.
At a price point around $433, the 3D printed hand can do what prosthetics costing thousands of dollars more can’t. Each finger can be individually moved and controlled by the user, allowing for finer control than most options on the market. Additionally, the arm comes with an Android app that further refines the arm’s functionalities.
The students 3D printed the arm using an SLA printer, but they’re moving to FDM to lower costs even more.
“Not only do we want to make it affordable, we want people to actually like the look of it and not be ashamed or embarrassed of using or wearing it,” says the team.
Though it’s been a while since the bulk of the project work was done in 2018, this project shows how 3D printing can make prosthetics much more affordable and accessible to those who need them.
Though not exactly dedicated to 3D printing prosthetics, one last project deserves an honorable mention. In a collaboration between various institutes in Japan, scientists have developed a new model to classify EMG signals.
Published in 2019 in Science Robotics, their paper describes a neural network that has been trained to recognize electrical signals that control each of the five fingers. Then, the network can detect combined signals to move different fingers together with more than 90% accuracy. This exciting development could advance the amount of control users have over their 3D printed prosthetics, which are usually limited in their range of motion.
Pictured above is one of their 3D printed prototypes, which they tested on one amputee participant. Though the results are already impressive, there’s still room for improvement. The next steps outlined were to test how the model performs over a longer period of time and develop sensory feedback for the user.
Want to read more about 3D printed prosthetics? Check out these articles:
(Lead image source: Lourds Lane)
License: The text of "3D Printed Prosthetic Hand – 5 Most Promising Projects 2019" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Subscribe to updates from All3DP
You are subscribed to updates from All3DP
You can’t subscribe to updates from All3DP. Learn more…