2. Case Study: Open Bionics


OpenBionics designs and develops affordable, open-source, modular robot hands and prosthetic devices that can be easily built and reproduced with off-the-shelf components.

The robot-hands market is dominated by high cost and maintenance-intensive proprietary products. These may cost between $20,000 and $100,000, putting them well outside the means of many amputees, especially around conflict zones or where there is no access to basic health care. Mainstream prosthetics are also prone to breakdowns, needing frequent repairs and replacements which can only be performed by experts and at high additional cost.

To counter this, OpenBionics has created a digital commons of designs, software and knowhow for the development of anthropomorphic, modular and easily maintained robot and prosthetic hands. The hands can be fabricated with low-cost desktop manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing and computerized numerical control (CNC) machines, and are made using off-the-shelf, low-cost and lightweight materials that can be easily found in hardware stores. Fabrication and assemblage of a full working hand typically takes between four and six hours. These hands are as just as functional as commercially available solutions, but at a fraction (from 0.1 to 1%)  of the cost. The modular designs are very simple and require no specialized tooling and, as they are fabricated on-site, they can be repaired and maintained locally.

The OpenBionics website (www.openbionics.org) serves as an online repository of videos, code, designs and tutorials. All of these are available under a Creative Commons license that allows people to share, copy and redistribute the related material in any medium or format and adapt, remix, transform and build upon it for any purpose (including commercial ones). A variety of designs are provided, and website visitors are able to request the files needed to develop a personalized prosthesis by filling out an appropriate form.

In 2015, the OpenBionics initiative won the Robotdalen International Innovation award and has now initiated a collaboration with Robotdalen to perform clinical trials and commercialize affordable prosthetic devices. Among the future plans of the OpenBionics initiative is the creation of a spin-off/start-up company for the commercialization of the derivative designs without compromising their open dissemination and licensing.