Open Hand Project: Who Wants a Robotic, 3D Printed, Open-Source, Sub-$1000 Prosthetic Hand?
Silly question. Even if you’ve got two fleshy ones that work, who doesn’t want a robotic, 3D printed, open-source, crowd-funded, sub-$1000 prosthetic hand? British roboticist Joel Gibbard’s Open Hand Project has a working prototype, a plan, and plenty of motivation. Sayonara, hook hand prosthetic thingy!
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Dextrus: Open-Source, 3D-Printable Prosthetic Hand - Add to Cart!
The modern inventor uses human technology like a good DJ uses 70s soul and funk: take what’s out there, remix, overlay, recombine, improve; if the resulting technological mashup turns out useful, desirable, or essential, the market can run with it.
It’s Information Economy 101; the graphical user interface (GUI), for example, wasn’t dreamed up by Steve & Steve at Apple, no, guys with slide rules and bushy sideburns at PARC & XEROX did that. But see, one day Steve & Steve visited PARC to play with the prototype, and well, there you go.
Okay, so here in the present, roboticist Joel Gibbard didn’t found an open-source coding platform for prosthetics, he didn’t come up with the idea for internet-based crowdfunding, and he didn’t like, you know, invent plastics and 3D printing & stuff. But, by combining those technologies in a novel way, he’s served up an entirely unique means of creating and distributing cybernetic prosthetics for human augmentation.
With Dextrus, the first creation of the Open Hand Project, the world is being offered a very affordable, openly moddable and hackable, easily repairable robotic hand. The tech isn’t new, but a project like this, a materials/communications/medical science mashup with a pun-intended potentially global reach, has never been attempted.
OHP’s Dextrus Hand is Pretty Awesome, but...
Dextrus is a five-fingered, fully articulated, individual finger-controllable, myoelectric robotic prosthetic. It’s made of plastic, steel, and electronic circuitry. It’s indicated for full-hand amputees who, even after a medical or traumatic amputation, have a number of muscles that remain functional after healing.
To provide Dextrus with input, sensors are attached to the skin in strategic locations above individual muscles. These harvest electomyographical signals and translate them into specific movements in the hand. Even if the signals picked up aren’t originally associated with a corresponding hand movement, neuroplasticity takes over and rewires things straight away.
Of added value, let’s say you’ve already got a split-hook prosthesis that you really like, perhaps for barbecuing or getting spaghetti out of boiling water. Dextrus works with a standard adapter, so you can just pop it off, and pop the ancient hook right back on. And then you'll probably soon pop Dextrus right back on because Dextrus is much cooler (and do see Addendum #1 below for why Dextrus beats hook).
Okay, okay, that’s all great. But what’s the big deal, right? Advanced robotic hands are definitely sexy, but they aren’t new, and they aren’t exactly few. The thing is, in the case of Dextrus, the ‘What?’ of the project isn’t the most interesting...
To get hip to what sets Dextrus apart, consider for a moment the case of Mr. Nigel Ackland, everyone's favorite beer-drinking Australian cyborg. Nigel’s picked up a certain measure of YouTube fame through videos demonstrating and promoting the Bebionic3 Robotic Hand, made by British firm RSLSteeper.
There’s no question that Nigel’s hand is an amazing and inspiring piece of human technology, but there are several hundred million questions on how most of humanity’s hand amputees will never afford a prosthetic that, at its most basic - just the hand with no attachments or extra features (without which it’s unusable) - starts at more than $20,000 (and moves up and up and up very quickly). Oh, and since technically these are imported goods for anyone not in the UK, there’s that whole customs issue & fees and the overseas dealer’s commission stuff to deal with.
And then what about maintenance and such for the Bebionic3? What if Nigel’s hand breaks? What if he’s too far from a dealer or rep to get any immediate help? How long does it take to get a replacement part? Or a replacement hand? With all that patented, carefully and understandably guarded proprietary tech, it’s not like you can take it down to the local robot arm shop for a tune-up. Yes, it's wonderful if you can afford it, but it is way, way pun-intended out of reach for most of humanity’s hand amputees.
So, for those who can’t roll with a Bebionic3, we need somebody to design an alternative, publish the design for free, allow the tech to be openly copied, altered, or even sold, and thereby make an advanced robotic prosthetic available to anyone on the planet for less than $1000 per.
Well, luckily, we have that guy.
The ‘How?’ of the Open Hand Project is What Really Matters
When complete, the entire recipe for Joel Gibbard’s Dextrus hand will be published on the OHP website - free for anyone to download, rejigger, improve, and upload back to the site to share with all.
It’s 3D Printable...
As the hand’s major structural components are all 3D printed, should something break, your local 3D printer can knock out that new pinky finger or whatever straight away. And actually, even if there’s nothing wrong with the hand, you could print an adapter for just about anything and stick it onto, or in place of a finger. Maybe a cookie cutter. Mechanical pencil. Squeegee. Laser pointer. USB drive. Paring knife. House key. Lighter. Spatula. You know, do what you like.
Then there’s the whole online and physical reality-based pop-up communities that seem to have a symbiotic relationship with open source projects. Rather than making an appointment or calling for tech support, imagine getting online and searching through a support forum, or maybe Skyping with a dude in China who’s having the same issue, etc., etc.
And what if you just want to make it do different things? Like, maybe teach it to extend just one finger for more effectively pushing small buttons? It could be done - there are more than 20 muscles in the human arm, and for the right patient that's a lot to work with. Maybe someone will hack in more feedback nodes and be able to play an instrument.
The important thing is that, theoretically, it's really wide open, and totally unprecendented. Putting this kind of tech in the hands of maker, hacker, and super-robodorky communities around the world would undoubtely produce lovely surprises.
Less than $1000...
Dextrus would be much more affordable for people in the UK, USA, here in Japan, and other developed areas as well. Moreover, as Joel accurately points out, a sub-$1000 device would profoundly lower the bar for the less fortunate around the world. As we've seen with mobile phone proliferation in some developing countries, landlines are skippable, and it's a pattern; rapidly advancing technology often leapfrogs itself in less-fortunate parts of the world. Perhaps then, on a relatively smaller scale, there could be some leapfrogging here as well: skip the prosthetic hooks - go directly to Dextrus.
Joel’s got the idea.
Joel’s got the prototype.
Who’s paying for development?
The Open Hand Project at Indiegogo
The campaign is in full swing, and with time ticking down, many of us in the global tech community, not just pontificators yelling from the cheap seats, but those of us with a deep passion for either the design & engineering or social and psychological issues surrounding robotics and cybernetics, we’re doing all we can to share this innovative and important project.
“Ideally if I can make the Open Hand Project work, I'll branch out into more areas of prosthetic hands: Partial hand amputees, prostheses for children, arms. After this I'd like to explore more low-cost biomedical ideas, I have one for a "21st century white cane" for blind people that I think I can get to work. Then after that I'd plan to branch out into other industries within robotics.”
The world could use that. All of it. Flex your robogeekery: Fund the Open Hand Project.
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Addendum #1: Dextrus is Even Better, and Ultimately Cheaper than a Hook
Sure, it’s great that we’ve had variation on hook hands for however many hundreds of years; that’s been a lot of utility for people that otherwise would have had none. But, as with wheelchairs, libraries, and public payphones, as a prosthetic the hook is long overdue for obviation and aggressive replacement.
In fact, when compared the Open Hand Project’s Dextrus hand, even cost isn’t a viable argument for keeping prosthetic hooks around. A basic adult, split-hook prosthesis (attachment only) can cost anywhere from $400 to $800, depending on the size and desired utility. That doesn’t include the cost of the sling and pulley systems that actuate the hooks via shrug or elbow extension.
Oh, also, let’s say you want to do something else, maybe something for which a hook’s narrow range of utility and single degree of freedom just won’t cut it. Well, then costs begin to go up:
With the cost of a new hook, a new sling, perhaps an attachment or two, you’re already going to push well past $1000. Maybe one can find a used hook on Craigslist or whatever, but there’s just something unseemly about that. Like buying secondhand underwear.
Hook prosthetics are kind of a locked-in market; that is to say, the clientele are limited to what companies decide to make for them, and they’re bound by what’s effectively a monopoly. Basically, market economics goes all kindsa nowhere in the prosthetic hook hand industry.
How about skip all the attachments, spend the same amount or less, and just automatically be able to do stuff like this?
Hook makers better pay attention. It’s time to evolve, and some forward thinking is in order:
Fund Joel’s campaign, get yourself a Dextrus, run with develping it, resell it, put your logo on it, add a bottle opener, maybe license some kit from the Swiss Army, etc., etc. Hook makers - Come with us to the future!
Addendum #2: The Open Badass Exoskeleton Just for Fun Project
AkihabaraNews, being interested in such things, asked Joel about creating an Open Badass Exoskeleton Just for Fun Project. Basically there’d be plans for 3D printing a fusion-powered armored exoskeleton freely published online for anyone to build, hack, share, etc.
“If we can crowd fund it, I'll do it!”
We’re currently seeking a crowd.
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