Myoelectric prosthetics—bionic limbs that are controlled by an amputee’s muscle movements—have been around for decades. The issue until now has been that they’re often too bulky and expensive to be considered a practical option for many amputees, with hospital-grade models sometimes costing up to $100,000. Open Bionics, a startup based in the U.K., seeks to change that with their open-sourced, 3D-printed hands.
Internal strings cause the lightweight prosthetics to open, close, and grip based on electrical cues from the forearm muscles. The 3D-printing technology creates comfortable models that are an exact match to the amputee’s opposite hand. The hands, which can come customized in a variety of colors and designs, function at the same level as more expensive prosthetics, but cost around $3000 and can be produced in just a few days.
In the spirit of making bionic prosthetics more accessible to everyone, all the designs are open-sourced, meaning people are free to download the software and print hands themselves. While Open Bionics will still be making and selling prosthetics, they hope the accessibility will encourage innovation in the field.
The next step for the startup is observing how wearers function with the hands day-to-day in order to continue to improve upon their product. It’s estimated that there are 11.4 million hand amputees across the globe; these new prosthetics could revolutionize daily life for many of them.