One of the most important developments in 3D printing over the past two years is the creation of low-cost 3D printable prosthetic hands. Beginning with Richard Van As and Ivan Owen’s partnership to make functional 3D printed fingers, the movement to bring down the price of prosthetics has flourished and, now, an increasing number of people have been helped by refinements in the duo’s original design. These hands, however, are driven by wrist movement and the range of mobility and control of their individual fingers is limited to various levels of gripping. Youbionic is an Italian endeavor that seeks to push the abilities of 3D printed prosthetics by creating bionic hands at a similarly low price point.
The project has just begun, so we have yet to see how far it will go or what it will look like in the end, but the idea behind Youbionic is to create a 3D printable bionic hand controlled by an Arduino and servo motors. The three person team behind it – made up of a designer, a software engineer, and a hardware engineer – hope to 3D print a sleek looking hand all in one piece and then attach an Arduino microprocessor, connected to what looks like five different servo motors, to control each finger individually. So far, Youbionic has only 3D printed the palm and index finger of their hand (see video below) and their designer, Federico Ciccarese, tells us that they “are building the prototype and writing the code to control the movement through muscle sensors.”
Looking at the CAD mock-up of the Youbionic hand, I wonder how much it would weigh with all of those servo motors. Even if it weighs more than something like the i-limb, which weighs about a pound (~500 grams), it will cost a fraction of the price of bionic limbs already on the market. The i-limb ultra, for instance, is at the high end at $100,000. And, at the lower end, there’s the beBionic, which has a price tag of around $25-$30k. What I believe will really ensure the success of the YouBionic hand, though, is whether or not it’s open source.
3D printed prosthetic hands have proliferated wildly in part due to their open source nature. Anyone with access to a 3D printer could modify the prosthetics to fit their own needs and 3D print them, leading to countless new variations on the original model. Had they kept their designs a closely guarded secret, an artificially high price could have been maintained, the limbs might not be tailored to the individual user, and fewer people would have had access, limiting the number of people helped. So, I hope that Youbionics will keep that in mind as they continue their work and maybe even consider working with these guys at the open bionics project: