3D-printed robotic prosthetic hand promises low-cost alternative for amputees
Low-cost, 3D-printed robotic prosthetics have been developed by students at the University of Manchester that could provide a much cheaper alternative for amputees.
The hand’s joints are all fully posable with each individual finger and the thumb being able to move as well as make a fist.
The functionality of the hand allows its user to do simple everyday tasks such as picking up items, eating using a knife and fork, typing and clicking a mouse or opening doors. It can even play rock-paper-scissors.
The students built the hand for just £307 and reckon they can make it even cheaper. In comparison, an advanced robotic prosthetic limb currently on the market can start at approximately £25,000, going up to £60,000 if bought privately.
Even the more affordable robotic hands with just basic multi-grip functionality still start at £3,000.
According to the NHS, around 6,000 major limb amputations are carried out each year in the UK alone.
Non-robotic prosthetic limbs available on the NHS are either purely cosmetic, whilst other more functional ones are simple plastic-moulded limbs with hooks. This was also another inspiration for the team’s futuristic yet life-like design.
Alex Agboola-Dobson who led the research team said: “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.
“Some traditional prosthetics can both look and feel cumbersome or those that don’t are extremely expensive. We think our design really can make a difference and we will be looking to commercialise the project in the future.”
Connectivity is another advantage of their design, as it comes with Bluetooth connection and an Android app for a smartphone.
The hand is controlled by muscle sensors placed on the wearer’s arm that can be paired to the app.
“The functionality is customised through the phone app, but the muscle sensors provide the control by moving the hand whenever necessary. It is really simple to use,” Agboola-Dobson said.
The actual manufacturing of the hand is by a type of 3D printing called stereolithography, which uses a high-quality resin plastic for production.
Eventually, the team are aiming to move to fused deposition-modelling 3D printing, which will make the hand even cheaper to produce without losing any of its quality.