The Open Hand Project

The Open Hand Project

The sense of touch and control of your hands is something most of us take for granted. Those who need a limb or appendage replaced now have the opportunity to regain this precious ability.

Let us introduce the Dextrus: a robotic prosthetic hand.

The aim of the project is to make robotic prosthetic hands more accessible to people who need them. “At the moment, these devices to exist, but they can cost up to $100,000 and they’re not usually covered by national health services or health insurance policies,” explained Joel Gibbard, founder of the Open Hand Project. The Dextrus is a robotic hand that can be constructed for under $1000 while still offering most of the functionality of a human hand.

So, who is the Dextrus for?

The Dextrus hand is for anyone who wants an advanced robotic hand. This could be an amputee who want more function than a hook, a researcher who's looking into control systems for telepresence robots or even for a hobbyist who is making a humanoid robot.

I would be proud to wear this, it would make me feel more confident,” said Liam Corbett, who lost his right hand to meningitis. "I think it's certainly going to enable me to do the finer things in life which I haven't been able to do with the hook."

How Does it Work?

The Dextrus hand works much like a human hand. It uses electric motors instead of muscles and steel cables instead of tendons. 3D printed plastic parts operate like bones and a rubber coating acts as the skin. All of these parts are controlled by electronics to give it a natural movement that can handle all sorts of different objects.

The hand can be connected to an existing prosthesis using a standard connector to give an amputee another option. It uses stick-on electrodes to read signals from their remaining muscles, which can control the hand, telling it to open or close.

The fingers are individually powered and each one can sense when an object is impeding its movement. This gives it the ability to grasp objects gently and means the fingers can really wrap around unusual shapes to grip them firmly.


What Has Been Done Already?

At the moment, using 3D printing, a full working prototype of the Dextrus hand has been built. The core electronics have been bread-boarded and work, and the software has been prototyped on a PC. Everything works but it's not yet as mobile or as polished as it will become. 

National Instruments has already got behind the Open Hand Project, providing industry leading test and measurement equipment.

This means that expert testing methods can be used to  ensure the hand is reliable and durable.


And What's Next?

The next thing to do will be to design and prototype the rest of the electronics and build everything onto printed circuit boards. The design of the hand needs to be refined and tested to make sure that it's robust and functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. After all of the designing and testing has been complete, the rewards will be sent and all of the designs and code will be uploaded to the internet for anyone to use and build on.

It hasn't been an easy path for Gibbard and his team. 

What I didn’t realize (before) it takes more than great research to truly make a difference,” said Gibbard. That's where 3D printing and 3D engineering came in. “You have to take technology out of the lab and into the hands of the people that need it.”

The Dextrus robotic hand is just another way 3D printing can bring down costs for any innovative product. Product design, mockups and prototyping has never been easier. 




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