3D printed robotic hand wins James Dyson Award

Joel Gibbard, winner of the Young Engineer of the Year Award at last year's British Engineering Excellence Awards, has become the UK winner of the James Dyson Award for his prototype 3D printed hand. Gibbard claims the hand can be made faster and at lower cost than current artificial limbs.

The prosthetic, designed by Gibbard's Open Bionics project, can be produced in 40 hours and is available at a price of £2000, including the cost of fitting. Though his design isn't as advanced as some alternative prosthetics which can cost between £30,000 and £60,000, it is a much more affordable option, especially for children who may have to change their prosthetic multiple times a year to compensate for their growth.

"The problem of current robotic prosthetics is their financial barriers. The only alternative to a robotic prosthetic is a cosmetic hand that is functionless and heavy, or an alienating hook," Gibbard said. "I can 3D print a robotic prosthetic that hand amputees enjoy showing off for a fraction of the price."

Gibbard's prosthetic hand works by detecting muscle movements via sensors stuck to the wearer's skin. A single flex of the muscles opens and closes the fingers, while a double flex forms a pinch grip.

Although the user cannot feel what the fingers are touching, sensors built into the hand can tell when they are in contact with an object and adjust or limit the force that is exerted. This means that the owner can pick up objects as fragile as an egg without breaking them.

"I'm a great believer in finding more efficient ways of doing things. By embracing rapid prototyping techniques, Joel has initiated a step-change in the development of robotic limbs," said James Dyson. "Open Bionics opens doors to a community that might not have previously had access to advanced prosthetics."

Gibbard will now represent the UK in the international awards later this year.