Huge congratulations are due to Open Bionics for their recent success. The innovative young company won the Dyson Award for their robotic hand for amputees.

Their prototype 3D-printed robotic hand that can be made faster and more cheaply than alternatives currently available is the recipient of this year’s UK winner of the James Dyson Award.

The Dyson Award was set up to champion young engineers and scientists around the world to develop their problem solving ideas. James Dyson said: ‘Young people have the power to change the world through engineering. Each year the James Dyson Award sees truly remarkable solutions to real-life problems all approached from different angles. No problem is too big and the simplest solutions are the best – use the award as a stepping stone to take your invention towards commercialisation.’

The Bristol-raised creator of the Open Bionics project says he can 3D-scan an amputee and build them a custom-fitted socket and hand in less than two days. It typically takes weeks or months to obtain existing products.

Joel Gibbard says he aims to start selling the prosthetics next year.

“We have a device at the lower-end of the pricing scale and the upper end of functionality,” he told the BBC.

“At the same time it is very lightweight and it can be customised for each person. The hand is basically a skeleton with a ‘skin’ on top. So, we can do different things to the skin – we can put patterns on it, we can change the styling and design. There’s quite a lot of flexibility there.”

The 25-year-old inventor intends to charge customers £2,000 for the device, including the cost of a fitting. Now compare this with prosthetic arms with controllable fingers, which normally retail anything between £20,000 and £60,000 and you can see why Gibbard’s technical innovation is so important.  For instance think how often a young child due to their growth spurts would need to change their prosthetic.

A very worthy winner! 

So how does the Open Bionic’s hand function?

The hand relies on myoelectric signals, meaning it detects muscle movements via sensors stuck to the owner’s skin and uses them to control its grip.

A single flex of the wearer’s muscles opens and closes the fingers, while a double flex changes the shape to form a pinch grip. Although the user cannot feel what the fingers are touching, sensors built into the digits can tell when they come into contact with an object to limit the pressure they exert. This means owners can pick up objects as fragile as an egg without crushing them.

To think that Open Bionics started as a bedroom-based crowd-funding project in 2013, it is remarkable achievement.  

Joel Gibbard received £2,000, which will be spent on a new 3D printer to speed up the prototyping process, and his design will advance to the international stage of the competition.

We wish him the very best of luck!

Until next time