The NHS currently has to pay around £70,000 for a prosthetic hand, but robotics expert Joel Gibbard, 23, has come up with an alternative which could cost just £600.
Dextrus works like a human hand, using electric motors instead of muscles and steel cables instead of tendons. The 3D printed plastic parts work like bones and a rubber coating acts as the skin.
The hand, which is made from the same material as Lego, can be used without a custom fitting. It can articulate each finger individually enabling it to hold objects of different sizes and shapes.It takes about eight hours to print one off.
Mr Gibbard, from Bristol, said: "The motivation for this was seeing really advanced prosthetics.They’re very expensive so I thought I would create one using my robotics experience and a 3D printer. I want to make it in a way that is cost effective but still profitable. At the moment they would sell for around £1,000 but the idea is to get this down to £600. Money is not my goal with this, I want to make it more accessible for amputees."
The hand doesn’t have sensors but detects the amount of resistance on each of the fingers, enabling it to hold an egg without crushing it.
Mr Gibbard says it has a "firm grip, but not as strong as a human hand." The hand can crush a paper cup, but not a metal can. Mr Gibbard hopes the hand will be particularly beneficial for children as they are currently often unable to have an expensive prosthetic as they grow out of them every couple of years meaning it is not cost effective.
This device is sufficiently cheap that it might allow children to have a new hand every time they grow out of their old one.
The scientist graduated with a first class degree in robotics from Plymouth University in 2011. He then spent two years honing his engineering skills working with National Instruments as an Applications Engineer. But he gave up the job to focus on his robotics hand, moving back in with his parents and ploughing his savings into the ambitious project.
Mr Gibbard has got to this stage in just five months and has now raised £39,000 through crowd funding so he can take the invention to the next stage, testing its robustness while working on the electronics and robotics. It is hoped the ‘The Open Hand Project’ will be completed by the end of 2014.
And despite all his hard work, Joel is giving away all of his secrets by making the whole project ‘open source’. This means there are no patents and everything is published online so anyone has the right to use his coding to create and sell prosthetic hands themselves.
He said: "My passion is robotics and this is a positive outlet. I find it frustrating seeing new technology which is too expensive or not in the public domain. I’m giving away the code for this so anyone can use this to build hands and even make money off it themselves. I am not a businessman, I am an inventor and I hope it will be something the NHS might implement themselves. I hope to finish the development in one year and have it on sale in 15 months."