Open Bionics is a start-up company based in the Bristol Robotics Lab that create open source designs for functional prosthetic limbs, starting with the bionic arm. The idea began with 7-year-old Logan, who had abandoned his hospital-given prosthetic hand. Open Bionics founders Sammy Payne and Joel Gibbard felt they could do better for children like Logan; as their only options were ugly ill-fitting rubber hands that make them feel even more different and victimised at school.

Five Things I Learned:

1. Open Bionics work closely with members of the amputee community to co-design arms that are accessible and that build body confidence. Their recently launched bionic arm is flexible and adjustable to allow for growth as well as being customisable - the outside covers can be removed and changed to suit the wearers needs. The NHS has given them a development contract for children aged 8-17 and each arm currently cost £10,000 - a fraction of the cost compared to other prosthetic limbs.

2. They decided early on to make the arm designs open-source, which wasn’t a popular one with investors initially. However, making the designs accessible has had many advantages and allowed for huge amounts of research and development to happen worldwide. One such innovation came from Georgia Tech who used the designs to create the world’s first bionic arms that can play the piano! Open Bionics are happy for other companies to sell products based on their designs, as long as they share their stories with them.

3. Open Bionics have also partnered up with Disney to develop a series of themed arms called the Hero Arm. The designs feature Iron Man, Frozen and Star Wars themed bionic arms. The arms launched two official amputee mascots, Avenger Sydney and Jedi Logan and received widespread positivity online. Adult amputees started requesting designs to suit them and soon after the sleek Deus Ex hand was born. Open Bionics wanted to create designs so desirable that they would make able bodied people jealous!

4. Dan Melville joined the Open Bionics team three and a half years ago when he happened across their Kickstarter page. He saw that they were fundraising to create low cost bionic arms. Intrigued he got in contact to ask if they needed an amputee tester. Through getting involved with the team he was exposed to 3d printing technology, which inspired him to start up his own company called Handy Dans 3D Prints. Dan now teaches children about 3D printing and how to create their own 3D printed objects and designs. 

5. Areas of the design that Open Bionics are aiming to develop are to include sensors on the arm to provide the wearer feedback, giving them the ability to feel touch. Another cool feature which they are looking to add is capacity touch, which allows the wearer to use a touch screen device using the prosthetic hand. Currently the bionic arms are made for below the elbow amputees, but in future they are hoping to explore many other prosthetic options.

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