Open Bionics adds superhero appeal to prostheses for kids
Historically, those born without a hand or have one amputated can choose prosthetic devices that focus on realism and, for a steeper price, fine motor control. Open Bionics has unveiled several new designs for the youngest of prosthesis owners, and paired small size with kid appeal. Swerving away from realism, these prostheses are literally modeled after superheroes. Calling these the world's smallest bionic hands, Open Bionics argues that for kids it transforms being different into being cool.
Yesterday, Open Bionics unveiled three LED-studded designs at Techstars' Disney Accelerator Demo Day. The Accelerator program offers capital to select startups, along with creative resources and royalty-free access to Disney characters.
A Jedi lightsaber hand was designed in collaboration with Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB and modeled by a 12-year-old boy. Two other designs emulated Tony Stark's signature bionic style and Elsa from Disney's Frozen with her characteristic baby blue sparkles.
The superhero prosthetic arm project is part of founder Joel Gibbard's larger vision of prostheses design. After he created the open source Open Hand Project, he began talking to prostheses users about what was most important to them in a prosthesis.
Through this process, he determined that people were more concerned with the weight and look of the prosthetic hand than the amount of fine motor control that it had. Many users additionally must rely on using a claw rather than a realistic hand due to the costs involved. This led him to change his focus to improving the aesthetics and reducing the weight of the artificial hand, envisioning a prosthesis as a tool or fashion accessory, rather than a literal interpretation of a human arm.
In this train of thought, a superhero prosthetic arm becomes the perfect accessory for a child. Gibbard relates seeing child amputees try to hide cosmetic hands (a prosthesis that isn't functional but merely decorative) because of a feeling of seeming different or refusing to wear one because of its heft. But a superhero-inspired prosthetic hand transforms a medical device into an imaginative statement.
While Open Bionics is trying to break into the market with commercial products, its Dextrus hand will always be freely available to download and 3D print to create a hand for use as a prosthetic device, for animatronics, or in research.
Both Dextrus and Open Bionics' commercial projects have feedback sensors in the fingertips to sense when a grip is established and not push too hard. Both also use 3D- printed ABS as a durable material to replace the titanium and carbon fiber which drive up the costs of traditional prostheses.
The video below features footage of some of Open Bionics' previous designs.