While we have seen some pretty amazing 3D-printed prosthetics in recent weeks, including the likes of Iron Man and Wolverine, none may be as impressive as the Youbionic hand. Developed by Italian designer Federico Ciccarese, the white plastic hand is equipped with multi-colored wires attached to an electronic switchboard, powered by an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4).
Going one step further than the average prosthetic, the hand works through a series of sensors and actuator motors, controlled by the Arduino board. By attaching electrodes to the muscles of the remaining part of an amputee’s arm, the device is capable of reading impulses and then translating them into commands to drive the motors — albeit a 3D-printed plastic hand.
As the Maker tells Digital Trends, the electrical impulses differ in strength, which leads to various contractions and movements — lower impulses result in smaller movements, higher impulses in larger ones.
“Youbionic is a device made to just simplify people’s lives while also enabling them to reduce the feeling of embarrassment that sometimes occurs when showing a prosthesis,” explained Ciccarese. “I tried to make it as pleasing to the eye as possible while also focusing on making its movements as natural as possible.”
In a series of demo videos below, you can see how the fully-functioning prototype turns on the hand and clenches into a first, while index finger and the thumb form a circle, as if holding an object. Why is this such an incredible feat? These movements are often times taken for granted moves for granted; however, for those who have without hands, fingers or mobility, these simple actions are unattainable.
Ciccarese says he elected to use standard components like the ATmega32U4 based processor, servos and sensors as it “makes the project more flexible and affordable to the final user. We were particularly impressed by the quality of these systems and we are more convinced than ever to continue down this path.”
The initial prototype will be able to execute the main holds necessary to perform life’s essential tasks, from opening a doorknob to holding a pen. While still a work in progress, the Maker one day envisions amputees being able to upgrade the hardware and software of their limbs in the same manner as we update our smartphones. For instance, if an update to the Arduino software becomes available that’ll make fingers open or grip faster, simply download the code.
While the DIY electronics behind this project are eye-opening, the true game-changer of the design is its manufacturing simplicity. Though the current proof-of-concept has been devised using selective laser sintering of nylon, Ciccarese believes the next generation of Youbionic hands will be built using FDM-based 3D printers. At the moment, the hand is still a work-in-progress made entirely out of plastic, but Youbionic is expected to add rubber to the design to help make movements like pinching and gripping easier.
According to its creator, Youbionic customers will one day be able to easily and cheaply construct their hand pieces themselves thanks to the accessibility and open source nature of [Atmel based] 3D printers and Arduino boards. Whereas most prosthetic hands cost upwards of $50,000, Youbionics will only be a mere fraction of the cost.
Interested in learning more about the 3D-printed project? Head here to get a true grip on how Makers are truly changing the world — one project at a time!