Four artists are helping a UK company’s bionic arms become the functioning hands of many with the benefit of stylish designs. Open Bionics is an entrepreneurial company that has created and fitted hundreds with its advanced, multi-grip bionic arms since their release this April. Called the Hero Arm, it’s the next step toward true borg technology and it’s been called a game-changer in health technology alongside genome sequencing, Fitbit, and smartphones. From kids as young as nine years old who haven’t had arms and hands since birth to amputees of all ages, the 3D printed devices go beyond prosthetics of the past. With the slogan “We turn disabilities into superpowers,” the company is doing that in more ways than one. Instead of making the arms look like real arms, they are adding eye-popping designs–a feature praised by their users, who have remarked, “This is a cool way to stand out for all the right reasons.” Instead of asking “what happened to your hand?” those seeing the Hero Arm on a person for the first time ask “how does that work?” “Can we shake hands, can we do a fist bump, can I have a photo?” The difference is a big one for wearers.
Open Bionics boasts the Hero Arm as “the first medically approved 3D printed arm.” The Hero Arm is a lightweight, powered bionic hand controlled by the wearer’s muscles. Because muscles generate small electrical signals when they contract, electrodes placed on the surface of the skin can measure muscle movements. A full suite of tools provides feedback to the user, including posable wrist, posable thumb, and a freeze mode (for use when holding something like a glass), plus proportional control for varying tasks. Comfortable, adjustable and breathable, the arm can lift more than 15 pounds of weight. According to the company, the Hero Arm is half the price of its closest competitor. Still, Open Bionics has stated that it has received donations to be able to provide free Hero Arms for qualifying children residing in the UK–the only place the bionic arms have been approved for sale. They aren’t covered by the nation’s healthcare system yet and can cost about U.S. $2,500 on up. Compare that to similar functioning U.S. electrical prosthetics with a cost upward of $50,000 to $100,000, and anyone can see why this product looks like the future of cybernetics. (You can help a woman get her own Hero Arm via crowdfunding. Learn more about her story below).
Hero Arms can also be worn with swappable custom covers. And now Open Bionics has four new styles for wearers to get a Hero Arm that best fits their personality. Each work shown (above, top, in order), was designed by an artist in Bristol: “Handala” by Daniel Bowler, “Tree Rex” by TRex, “Palette of Patterns” by J West, “Nebular” by Cheba, and “Open Bionics Doodles” by Kid Crayon. Even more covers are available for the Hero Arm, like the futuristic Deux Ex design (above). The Deus Ex video games explore human augmentation in a near future world. Open Bionics partnered with Eidos Montreal, basing the Deux Ex cover on the game’s protagonist Adam Jensen. (But they issue a disclaimer: It won’t give you the power to smash through walls!). Check out the future of this technology at the partnership website AugmentedFuture.com. Candidates for the Hero Arm can see customization options at the Open Bionics website here.
A 29-year-old woman named Sadie Cowdry is trying to get one of the Hero Arms. Born without her left forearm, she was bullied as a kid and eventually gave up the idea of a prosthetic arm, beginning with that familiar hook, used for centuries for those born without arms and amputees. Later she tried again with more modern devices but the weight and usefulness of the devices were prohibitive. Last September Sadie was diagnosed with De Quervain’s Syndrome, a painful condition affecting tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. The Hero Arm and variation she needs will cost about 10,000 pounds, or nearly U.S. $13,000. After five months she’s still only about a third of the way there. Want to help someone go from a prosthetic hook to a lightweight, functioning bionic arm? To learn more and help out, see her crowdfunding request/donation site here (she appears to be aiming for the “Nebular” style cover).
Find out more about Open Bionics at OpenBionics.com.