Open Bionics is revolutionising the healthcare industry by using 3D scanning and 3D printing to dramatically cut the cost of fitting hand amputees with robotic prosthetics. The company blends robotics, inclusive design, fashion, and wearable technology to create lightweight, affordable prosthetics. The startup plans to disrupt an old-fashioned health service and offer amputees globally a more affordably advanced prosthetic option.
Founded in 2014, Open Bionics has won multiple awards for innovation and engineering including the James Dyson Award for Innovative Engineering, two TechForGood awards, a prosthetic innovation award, and the company was recently named as one of the top 50 robotics companies in the world to watch alongside Google and Amazon. There are over 2 million upper limb amputees around the world and over 11 million amputees, but the lack of functional prostheses for amputees remains an issue.
Firstly, there are life-changing bionic hands available but they cost up to £80,000 which most amputees cannot afford. Open Bionics are creating a high-functioning bionic hand for under £3,000. Secondly, devices are often too heavy to wear and they tire the amputee out, so the Open Bionics team created a bionic hand that's half the weight of leading hands. Thirdly, the only prosthetics available for children are hooks and cosmetics. These can alienate and scare young children so the team created bionic hands that are inspired by superheroes so children can celebrate their limb differences. At the moment it takes an amputee at least 12 weeks to receive a custom-fit prosthetic hook or cosmetic (only prosthesis on NHS). Open Bionics can 3D scan an amputee's residual limb in about five minutes and then print them a custom socket and bionic hand in under five days. By adopting new and cheaper technologies Open Bionics wants to speed up the prosthetics industry, save amputees tens of thousands of pounds, and offer a functional device that can benefit millions of people.
Bionic hands, their first product, will address the smaller, more accessible market. Customers will be hand amputees and parents of children with limb-differences. We can sell devices directly to the customers: in the US, this is much quicker than using health insurance to fund the prosthetics, as this often delays the process of an amputee getting a prosthetic and often provides inadequate funding. This model is quickly scalable to different countries, and sales through hospitals and clinics will come later as interest begins to peak among the patient community. Open Bionics have already seen this happen, with hospitals in the UK requesting to work with them. The products have tested with amputees successfully and have yet to be launched but are currently going through CE marking, FDA registration, and clinical trialling as a class 1 medical device.
Open Bionics is based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory; the biggest robotics lab in the UK. The startup has been experimenting over the past year with the idea of what bionic limbs could look like and what functions they should perform. Last year the team produced a Swarovski covered bionic arm that lit up at night with fibre optics, before producing superhero prosthetics for kids that have superhuman functionality. The hero arms and hands light up, make sounds, and can 'fire' repulsor blasters and lightsabres. Open Bionics are developing bionic arms that combine art, engineering, and science fiction to offer amputees more choice.
Source and top image: Open Bionics, UAE and AI Robotics Award for Good