Italian start-up Youbionic has created a functional, myoelectric bionic hand using 3D printing and Arduino components. While still at prototype stage, the company says that its research will result in a prosthetic hand that costs a tenth or less than other models on the market.
Bionics is not a new field, but practical advances have struggled to catch up to possibilities imagined long ago in television shows like The Six Million Dollar Man or Frederick Pohl’s now almost-forgotten novel, Man Plus, where an astronaut is reengineered into a robot for a lengthy survey trip to Mars.
But this is changing fast. In recent years, technology has offered amputees increasingly sophisticated solutions to improve quality of life. 3D printing is further democratizing the field. Youbionic says its hands will cost around €1,000 (US$1,250), a fraction of the price of current commercial products like the i-Limb or bebionic myoelectric hand. Youbionic's 3D printed hand may not match the functionality or engineering sophistication of these products, but it's still a vast improvement over "dumb" prosthetics.
Further simplifying the equation, Youbionic says the entire hand can be made in a single piece and one print, so it does not need to be assembled afterwards.
Youbionic is not the first to use the possibilities of 3D printing for this purpose, of course. A General Electric engineer is developing a DIY bionic hand kit based around 3D printing, whilst the Maker Movement is also on board through e-NABLE, which brings together a network of volunteers to design and create basic prosthetic hands and make them available for free to those in need.
Youbionic is still in its early stages – prototypes have been developed and capital is needed – but the project certainly has great potential if it can deliver a balance of functionality and price.