Talk to the (robotic) hand!
While we’ve seen a number of 3D-printed prosthetics, and more recently a couple of Arduino-based bionic hands, one project by Nicolas Huchet has combined the two in a rather impressive manner. It all started nearly 10 years ago when Huchet’s forearm was amputated following an accident while working as a mechanical engineer. At the time, he was given a myoelectric prosthesis whose functionality was very limited. Faced with a challenge and a hunger for more mobility, Huchet decided to develop his own bionic prosthetic, The Bionico Project. His initiative aspired to increase the accessibility of prosthetic devices through the burgeoning Maker Movement, while assisting amputees to regain independence in their daily lives.
After coming across the 3D-printed, Arduino-based robot InMoov, Huchet and a team of enthusiasts from LabFab integrated a set of muscle sensors into a prosthetic prototype, which was then placed onto his arm. The artificial limb itself was extruded from a 3D printer, while equipped with actuators to move the fingers and joints, fishing line to connect the actuators to the joints, muscle sensors and a socket, batteries and of course, an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) brain.
With a little coding of the Arduino, Huchet was easily able to control the robotic hand merely through muscle impulses. The electricity produced is sent to an electronic card, which drives the motors. These motors open and close the hand, following the muscular contraction. More impressively, the entire thing was built for less than $250 — much cheaper than any commercial product on the market which can run upwards of $80,000.
“Force does not come from muscles but from mutual assistance. Unity makes us stronger. I appreciate this because I am not shaped like Sylvester Stallone,” Huchet wrote in a recent MAKE: Magazine feature. “In October 2012, while walking through Rennes, France, where I live, I passed an exhibition where strange machines, like something from science fiction, were depositing layers of material onto platforms. They were 3D printers.”
It was this sight that truly resonated with the Maker and inspired him to pursue the project. “It’s possible to design an inexpensive bionic hand that you can make yourself, then share your work so other people can improve it and share it further. I had discovered a world where we share knowledge much differently from this crazy world we are used to. I was looking at things differently; it was my revolution, my change.”
Much like the DIY movement, the Bionico Project is a true melting pot of Makers, bringing together people from all across the globe. Huchet notes that the 3D-printed digits originate from France, the muscle sensors from America, and design input from Brazil.
“I went to Italy at the Bio Robotic Institute and Maker Faire, USA, to Johns Hopkins University and to the Geek Picnic in Russia. I want to participate in worldwide research on bionic hands and share with people the many possibilities to make such products with a 3D printer, an Arduino board, cheap motors, muscle sensors and fishing lines,” Huchet revealed in a recent interview.
Currently, Bionico isn’t robust enough to be a fully-functional prosthesis; rather, still in its prototype stage, Huchet hopes to take it to the next level either through crowdfunding and/or sponsorship support.
“Above all, we want to create an international network and database devoted to improving low-cost prosthetics. This is an open-source project, which means you can participate or make it yourself. The prosthetic-hand field is very small, but if we build a bridge between countries and people, we can make it better and stronger, and go further, faster. As the American philosopher Sylvester Stallone said, ‘Big arms can move rocks, but big words can move mountains.’”