Hero Arm, the world’s first medically certified 3D printed bionic arm
The UK company Open Bionics has been working on the creation of 3D printed bionic prosthetic arms since 2014 – and they’re not just any 3D printed bionic prosthetic arms, they’re based on superheroes and other sci-fi characters, and have been tried out by children who definitely find them very cool and by musicians impressed by their functionality. These are complex robotic devices, which take some time to develop, but Open Bionics has been steadily working toward getting its prosthetics ready for general use. The organization signed an agreement with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) to potentially help make the devices more accessible, and finally, today, Open Bionics announced that its 3D printed bionic Hero Arm, the world’s first medically certified 3D printed bionic arm, is fully ready and will soon be available for purchase.
The Hero Arm can be custom made for children as young as eight years old. It’s adjustable, breathable and easy to put on and take off, and it works as though it’s just another part of the body, controlled in response to muscle movements, which are detected by sensors within the prosthetic. It’s lightweight yet strong, able to lift up to eight kilograms.
Other features include a posable wrist that can rotate through 180 degrees and an opposable thumb that can easily pick up small objects. It also features proportional control, allowing the wearer to control the speed of the fingers when picking up delicate objects, like eggs. Freeze Mode allows the hand to be held in a static position, like when holding a glass, for example. While easy to manipulate, the Hero Arm is a high-tech piece of equipment and shows it through a suite of lights, vibrations and sounds that inform the wearer of the status of their prosthetic.
Each Hero Arm is custom made for the wearer and can be further customized through swappable prosthetic covers, so you can match different outfits, moods, seasons, etc. The covers can even be custom designed by the wearer. The functions of the arm can be customized, as well; different grips can be selected and configured by the wearer’s prosthetist.
Prosthetics have come an incredibly long way in an incredibly short amount of time. Not long ago, they were clunky and difficult to use, if they functioned at all – many were simply used for visual purposes. They were also expensive, especially if you wanted one that served any kind of purpose. 3D printing has made prosthetics affordable and easy to make and customize, and many, many people have been helped by the kinds of open-source, collaborative organizations that make them. However, most of these devices, while helpful, are not medically certified, which sets Open Bionics’ Hero Arm apart. The Hero Arm is a huge step in making 3D printed prosthetic devices a real part of the medical establishment and changing the way these devices are made – and priced – in the future.
The affordability of the Hero Arm cannot be over-emphasized, either. There’s a reason you don’t see many people walking around with bionic arms – they’re astronomically expensive. Open Bionics’ device, however, is affordable for the average person, particularly with the possible help of the NHS in the future.
Today is a momentous day for the 3D printing industry, the prosthetics industry, and for the millions of people who are missing upper limbs.