The release of the Hero Arm
Not so long ago, a bionic arm was merely a pipe dream for those missing upper limbs. Now, Open Bionics has released a more affordable, multi-grip bionic arm, which can be 3D printed. Called the ‘Hero Arm’, this innovative prosthesis is designed to give wearers the same movement and dexterity that a biological arm does. It’s custom built and available for wearers as young as nine.
The Bristol-based company has made no effort to make the prosthetic look like a regular arm. Instead, it celebrates its artificial nature with fun designs and colours, which can be swapped like clothes to match the wearer’s mood. A cover customiser even allows customers to create their own design, turning the prosthetic into a kind of fashion accessory. Open Bionics also describes its product as comfortable, adjustable and breathable, easy to attach and remove.
Weighing less than a kilogram and able to lift up to eight kilos, the arm uses specialised sensors to detect muscle movements, meaning wearers have the kind of control that is possible with biological limbs. It also has a long battery life, giving all day usage and grip options that can be reconfigured by a prosthetist according to the wearer’s preferences.
Not only that, it has the ability to support finger motor control: finger speed can be controlled for delicate tasks such as picking up small or fragile objects. A posable wrist with 180-degree rotation also facilitates grabbing objects at odd angles.
An affordable option
Before the Hero Arm, amputees could expect to pay anything up to £60,000 for a bionic hand, a figure which puts them well out of reach for most people. Thanks to the savings offered by 3D printing and tablet-enabled 3D scanning of the wearer, Open Bionics’ product costs just £5,000. The construction process is largely automated, taking in the region of 40 hours, meaning a quick turnaround for customers too. With over 65,000 people in the UK being amputees, we could well be seeing the Hero Arm get more prolific over the coming months.
R&D tax relief in manufacturing and engineering
Needless to say significant research and development work went into the Hero Arm. The product now on the market is the result of hundreds of prototypes and countless hours of hardware and software refinement. Open Bionics is even planning to make its software open source, enabling other users and developers to further refine and experiment with the prosthetic.
This kind of innovation is exactly the sort that the government is seeking to reward. Relief on tax for engineering is widely available, as are manufacturing tax credits, meaning that companies investing in making significant contributions to science and technology can benefit hugely.