Gino Tubaro wants to give prosthetic hands to anyone who needs them–free. His organization, Atomic Labs, has come up with a simple prosthetic hand that can be 3-D printed by anyone. But the best part of the project is putting the plans into the hands people who can print them, and putting those people in contact with amputees who need a prosthesis.
The hand itself is simple, a modular design which snaps together and uses tendon-like cords to provide spring in the fingers and allow the user to grip objects by flexing their stump. The fingers can also be replaced with other tools–a cup holder, a bottle opener or, as Tubaro shows off in a promotional video, a Lego holder. This last one gives away the inspiration for the hand. Tubaro designed his first model for a local kid whose family couldn’t afford a regular prosthetic hand. It is estimated that between 10 and 15 million people need a prosthesis of some kind.
The kid-friendly theme continues through a form that amputees can fill out to join the queue for a new hand. After picking the kind of injury you have (from just one finger to a whole arm), applicants are asked if they have a favorite “super hero or heroine,” and if they’d like the hand to be customized to match their colors.
Speaking to Spain’s El Pais newspaper, Tubaro says that the hands take a couple of hours to print, and that the cost of material is just a dollar or two per finger, putting the cost of a hand at around €20 ($22.50). A regular prosthetic hand can cost up to $40,000.
Tubaro aims to build out a network so that anyone with a printer can download and print the hands. He is also seeking funding from governments and public bodies, although it might be more effective to put those who need hands in contact with people who have 3-D printers and are willing to donate a little time and resin to the cause. That’s why he made the plans for the hand open-source. That means the design can be modified and improved, and the production is decentralized. Ideally, the hands could be printed locally as needed.
Now Tubaro is working on an improved version that uses sensors and motors to allow fine control of the fingers. The brain of his bionic hand is a Raspberry Pi, the open-source computer that can be had for a few tens of dollars. This hand, says Tubaro, will let the user “play the piano.” He even has plans to put a sensor into a finger so that it can read Braille and translate it into haptic vibration so that a blind person can read it as if it were normal Braille.