Designer wins award for affordable 3D-printed robotic arm

Cost of the robotic arm was brought down £ 60,000 to only £ 3,000, making it available to many amputees.

Updated - March 29, 2016 05:25 pm IST

Published - August 25, 2015 08:26 pm IST - London

The creator of a cheaper and more affordable 3D-printed robotic arm for amputees has bagged this year’s Dyson Award for invention.

Joel Gibbard, a 25-year-old graduate from Plymouth University, and his company Open Robotics have been able to slash the cost of getting such an arm fitted down from around £ 60,000 to only £ 3,000.

“We’re using lower-cost motors than they have in high-end devices, so the overall strength is lower,” Gibbard explained.

“So, we are testing it with users and household objects and trying to come to a compromise that means it is very affordable and still has enough power to do most of the stuff that people want,” he said.

The UK engineering prize includes a £ 2,220 ($3,501) reward and comes with the chance to compete for an international title worth $45,000.

Open Bionics started as a bedroom-based crowd-funding project in 2013, supported by Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Since then, the arm design has been revised 10 times and the number of separate parts radically reduced.

Gibbard says he can now size up a user in a matter of minutes using a tablet equipped with a special sensor, 3D-print the parts in about 40 hours, and finally fit them together in a further two hours.

He said, “The new design is made of thermoplastic elastomer, which is basically a flexible rubbery plastic. So, we’re able to print something in far fewer pieces and then have flexible joints.

“That means it’s much more robust to impact forces and it requires much less assembly, so there are savings in cost, time and improvements in performance.”

The designer of the robot is currently based in Los Angeles where his work is being supported by Walt Disney’s Techstars Accelerator mentorship and investment programme.

The James Dyson Award, run by the James Dyson Foundation, is open to university level students (and recent graduates) studying product design, industrial design and engineering around the world.

It was created by British inventor Sir James Dyson, best known for his bagless vacuum cleaners.

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