Prosthetics are a godsend for people who have lost their limbs. Using a prosthesis, those individuals can regain their ability to walk or grab things. However, most artificial limbs have utilitarian designs that primarily focus on functionality and nothing else. Now, one startup has made its prosthetic arm designs open-source, giving anyone the ability to design their own unique but still functional prosthesis.
Open Bionics specializes in low-cost bionic hands that are 3D printed. They have a range of prosthetic hands for children that are inspired by the movies “Frozen,” “Star Wars,” and “Ironman.” The company’s co-founder Samantha Payne and her four-person crew can build a customized, fully functioning arm 20 times more cheaply than traditional methods and in just three days, much faster than the National Health Service’s (NHS) waiting time of up to three months.
For the Open Bionics team, though, three days was still too long, which is why Payne made her designs open-source. Now, anyone who has access to a 3D printer can make one for themselves. “When you’re open source you open your technology to millions of other people who want to improve it. You advance it much faster than if there were just four of us in a robotics lab,” Payne told the audience at WIRED Next Generation.
Prosthetic limbs have come a long way from their origin as simple, limb-shaped blocks of wood. Today’s prosthetic limbs are customizable, better equipped for modern society, and far more functional thanks to technology like Open Bionics’, which uses EMG sensors on a person’s arm to detect muscle movement.
Because the tech is open source, we could soon be seeing widespread use of Open Bionics’ designs by anyone with a 3D printer. The next step then, as Payne says, it to turn the prosthetic into something that’s uniquely your own. “Who’s to say what your replacement hand should look like?” she asks. “It’s an expression of yourself.”