The personalisation of healthcare devices has been a growing trend in the maker-sphere. From gold-plated hearing aids, neon walking sticks, and sparkling blade prosthetics to 3D printed arm casts, people with disabilities are no longer waiting for health services to catch up – they are dragging their medical devices into the future on their own.
Open Bionics, a startup of four based inside the Bristol Robotic’s Laboratory’s Technology Incubator, has 3D printed a custom-fitted bionic hand with enough sparkle to rival a disco ball for a woman born without a hand.
Grace Mandeville is a YouTube starlet and CBBC actress who applauds the growing popularity for diverse prosthetics.
Grace has taken to YouTube on multiple occasions to discuss diversity and her love of inventive prosthetics that can show off a bit of her vibrant personality.
Grace said: “This is my favourite thing about this whole topic. I really love fashion, and therefor dress to illustrate my personality, so being able to wear a creative prosthetic that shows who I am seems awesome – it’s like a one off accessory that nobody else can wear, basically like vintage Chanel.”
“You should be proud of what makes you different, and I think being able to wear a fun looking prosthetic is something to be proud of! You’re basically saying to the public “my arms cool and I know”.”
Open Bionics’ COO Samantha Payne said that the idea behind the Swarovski hand was to show off the possibilities for prosthetics within 3D printing.
Samantha said: “We printed Grace a socket and robotic hand in three days, and because 3D printing is so affordable we can add Swarovksi crystals and create something really eye-catching that will not break the bank. We also added four fibre optic wires to the socket so that whenever Grace closes her hand, a blue light would shoot up her 3D printed arm.”
“Prosthetics are entering the realms of fashion and we wanted to show how bionic prosthetics can be functional and fun.”
“We’ve been very experimental with Grace’s hand. This is a completely new socket design and this is the first time we’ve experimented with placing the EMG sensors above the elbow. Grace is actually controlling her hand by the muscle signals from her back.”
“The idea is to give hand amputees more option and a choice to have something they’d get some enjoyment out of wearing.”
“We’ve been told a lot by amputees that they want something that will get a compliment not a strange stare, something far away from a ‘flesh’ coloured prosthetic.”
Grace’s sister, Amelia Mandeville, said that having an attractive prosthetic could help turn something that is seen as ‘negative into a positive’. Amelia echoed her sister’s stance for having the option to stand out, asking “Who wants to be the same?”
As Grace eloquently puts it, “Why try to blend in, when you can have a piece of art as an arm instead?”
Grace was given a traditional cosmetic prosthetic when she was little and has one now but says, “I never wear it, I don’t like wearing it, it gets in the way.”
Grace said: “I love what Open Bionics is doing. So many people at the ‘Wearable Tech Show’ thought I had a hand and that I was wearing a fashionable sleeve, making some kind of fashion statement. I had to keep pulling my arm out and showing people that I wasn’t wearing some kind of glove but an actual bionic arm.”
“I found the hand really easy to operate, I tried it on for the first time Monday and I could control the hand straight away. I thought it was going to be really heavy but it wasn’t. I obviously still feel the difference, I was born with a foreshortened forearm so wearing anything is going to feel different and will always be an added weight.”
“I don’t ever wear prosthetics because I don’t feel like I need to. I would however absolutely love a bionic hand like this for events and evening’s out. I love fashion and this looks incredible.”
Open Bionics is still developing their robotic prosthetics and hope to be selling 3D printed hands within a year. They have won multiple awards for their open source 3D printed robotic hands and was recently named as one of the Top 50 international robotics companies to watch along with Google.