One of the most exciting developments to emerge out of the maker community is the growth of robotic prosthetics. Robots that play games, throw balls, and follow lines around a room are neat, but it’s great to see the development of robots that do something useful, like improving the lives of people who’ve lost their hands.

The reasons for this trend are many. Eighteen-year-old roboticist Raj Singh told me that after building a series of game-playing robots he simply wanted a greater challenge and set out to build a robotic arm that helped amputees and people with disabilities. Rising maker star Easton LaChapelle had similar motivations. The price of materials and available equipment has been a driver, too. The low cost of 3D printing has brought prohibitively expensive robotic prosthetics down to earth and opened the doors to a new class of maker-made robotic hands.

The Dextrus robotic hand by the Project Open HandProject Open Hand is a newcomer that caught our eye. Sensors mounted on the users forearm move the hand. The hand can be connected to an existing prosthesis with a standard connector. The plan is to sell the hands for less than $1,000.

British Roboticist Joel Gibbard says he was inspired to create the robotic hand after seeing robotic prosthetic devices like Touch Bionics and Bebionic.

“I decided to investigate the possibility of making a similar device at a fraction of the cost for my university project and discovered that this was possible,” he wrote me in an email. “After seeing the revolution in 3D printing in recent years I decided to purchase a 3D printer and use this to perfect the low cost design and bring this technology to a broader audience through the Open Hand Project.”

Most of all he says we was motivated to help amputees.

“The human hand is such a complex and intricate thing,” he said. “Replicating the same functionality a human hand can achieve in a robotic hand is an interesting engineering challenge.”

Detrus has less than two weeks to in their IndieGoGo campaign. I hope they make it.

Meanwhile, be on the lookout for our special 3D printing issue due out Nov. 12. It will feature a profile of another 3D printed robotic hand project.

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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