It can be inspiring and instructive to observe an innovative company progress to its goal of solving a huge problem. In this case, the issue is the high cost of and long wait time for prosthetic hands. We’ve been following Open Bionics for three years and written about the company twice before. In 2015 we wrote about Open Bionics’ open source project with freely available plans to construct robotic hands. In 2016 we covered the Open Bionics continued open source work utilizing 3D printing to create prosthetic arms and hands.
The next chapter in Open Bionics’ story is about distribution to a population that would otherwise be unable to acquire robotic hands. The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) has a need for robotic hands for children from low-income homes. Even though 3D printing has lowered the cost of a robotic hand from £80,000 to £5,000 and the wait time from at least 12 weeks to 5 days, the cost is still far beyond many economically-challenged families. Open Bionics won a £100,000 award from the NHS Small Business Research Initiatives program to fund a trial program, which it is conducting with ten children with the North Bristol NHS hospital trust. The pilot program started June 12, 2017.
If the program goes well, it may be extended to a wider North Bristol NHS hospital area population before consideration for universal availability in the NHS. Open Bionics has won other awards, including £1,000,000 from the AI and Robotics for Good Awards in Dubai, according to SBRI. The program just starting in Bristol has to potential for Open Bionics to develop its technology and it production capabilities in a phased program with immense market access and government support.