Low-cost 3D Printed robotic prosthetic limb

A team of students from The University of Manchester has designed and built a 3D printed, low-cost robotic prosthetic hand that could provide a cheaper alternative for amputees.

The hand’s joints are all fully poseable with each finger and 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.

But what also makes the prototype limb standout is its cost. The students built the hand for just £307 and reckon they can make it even cheaper. In comparison an advanced robotic prosthetic limb can start at approximately £25,000, going up to £60,000. More affordable robotic hands with basic multi-grip functionality still start at £3,000.

The design recently won ‘best new development’ in the Digital Innovation Challenge at the Industry 4.0 Summit and Factories of the Future Expo.

The hand is the brainchild of Alex Agboola-Dobson and his team – lead electrical engineer Sebastian Preston-Jensen, lead software engineer Panagiotis Papathanasiou and mechanical and software engineers Maximillian Rimmer and Shao Hian Liew.

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 purely cosmetic, whilst other more functional ones are simple plastic-moulded limbs with hooks. This was another inspiration for the team’s futuristic, but life like design.

Agboola-Dobson 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 key advantage of the team’s design as it comes with blue tooth 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, which was also designed by the group.

Agboola-Dobson added: “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.”

The hand is manufactured by a Stereolithography (SLA) printing. Eventually the team aims to move to Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) which will make the hand even cheaper to produce, without losing any of its quality.