3d Printing Entrepreneur Wins 2015 UK James Dyson Award
Robotics lands a hand
This year's winner of the prestigious James Dyson award for young design engineersin the UK is the entrepreneur James Dyson and his team at Open Bionics. Their product, called Dextrus, is a 3d-printed mechanized prosthetic arm which uses myoelectric controls and sensors placed on the skin to read the electric signals coming to the muscles and execute the intended action. This is done with the help of steel cables which act as tendons and motors which act as muscles all working together to achieve the movement and curling of fingers, where each finger is powered individually to make them more nimble. Furthermore, the arm is able to sense when one is trying to hold a fragile object and adjusts the strength of grasping to ensure safe handling.
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New endeavours in 3d printing
Functionality is not the only impressive quality of the prosthesis, however. The fact that it is 3d-printed is what makes it such a brilliant invention. Compared to current prosthetic solutions on the market, the Dextrus is the most streamlined model out there. It can be made to fit with a simple and quick scanning process involving the client and a tablet fitted with a scanner, which is completed in minutes. Printing the arm takes around 40 hours and putting it together another 2. This puts it way ahead of other products, which can take up to a few months to produce.
Affordable and accessible product
The whole process and the idea of 3d printing the arm is all in effort to make it widely affordable and accessible.
CEO Joel Gibbard says he was researching the concept of robotic hands when he found out that their potential was still untapped and the excessively high costs were prohibiting the mass use of this futuristic technology. Few families can afford to pay £30,000 to £60,000 a piece, especially if the amputee is a child that needs a new fitting once or twice a year. The latest iteration of Dextrus consists of just four parts, made of thermoplastic elastomer (a kind of rubbery plastic), which is behind the sturdiness and flexibility of the product. All of this results in massive time and cost savings and sets the price of the product lower than £1,000 when it eventually hits the market in 2016.
Additionally, all the technology plans and research made by The Open Hand Project (a crowdfunded project that was the stepping stone for Gibbard) are available online. This way anyone who needs it has access to it and can use it for personal or commercial purposes, as well as customizing and improving the design of the completely open source product.
Winning the James Dyson award in the UK provides Joel Gibbard and his team with a prize of £2,200 as well as the opportunity to compete for the global James Dyson Award, which offers a grant of nearly £30,000. But most important of all is the exposure and attention the project received, thus adding new dimensions to the endless possibilities of 3d printing.