e-NABLE and The Open Hand Project – Making A Difference Together



On September 28, 2014, e-NABLE will have our first conference: “Prosthetists Meet Printers” at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. One of our special guests will be Joel Gibbard from the Open Hand Project.

Joel Gibbard founded The Open Hand Project in 2013 in order to make robotic prosthesis more accessible. The 3D printing expert and roboticist started working on robotic hands when he was 17 years old. Last year, he ran a crowd funding campaign in order to develop a 3D printed robotic prosthetic that would cost just $1000. You can watch the inspiring video HERE.

Joel believes technology should be developed with the people who need it the most in mind and that means making prosthetics that are both practical and affordable. He gave a TedX Talk about what this means, earlier this year.

Joel is on a mission to remove the financial barrier to better prosthetics for children and adults. He’s trying to achieve this partly by keeping his designs and engineering open source. People can print their own hands at home if they want to and customize their prosthetic.

He is based in the UK and has been an e-NABLE member since January 2014. He sees the e-NABLE organization as a brother-in-arms. The Open Hand Project and e-NABLE are both working to improve the accessibility to prosthetic hands without any drive for financial gain.


This is what the Maker had to say:

What if we could 3D print prosthetic hands in one single piece? what if they were custom fitted to the user and could be made remotely, on demand and then shipped out to them?

Think about what this would mean for amputees, especially those in developing countries or without access to decent healthcare. The device wouldn’t require any assembly or special skills to build, it wouldn’t even require any tools or expertise to be fitted to the user. It could be lighter and cheaper without the need for any nuts and bolts or “vitamins.”

It could just be printed and sent off to the user. This would have a huge impact in areas where resources are hard to come by. It could change the lives for children across Africa that have lost limbs through civil wars in countries like Sudan, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo. These devices can also give adults a new freedom to help care for their children and contribute in their communities.

I envisage a future where prosthetics are made in this way and where access to functional and well-fitted prostheses does not depend on where you live or how much money you have. My personal interest is in robotics, so I’ve been focussing intently on creating a robotic hand that can give amputees high levels of functionality and freedom.

One area of particular interest to me is in the different materials that 3D printers are capable of printing in; this can make a huge difference to the performance of a device. We’ve had great success with ABS and PLS so far, but they do have their limitations. PLA is quite brittle and can break, especially when kids aren’t too careful with their hands! It does however have the awesome benefit of printing really fast and being extremely cheap so you can print replacement parts very quickly. As the 3D printing sector grows, more materials are becoming available. Nylon offers incredible strength and some flexibility and now we have flexible materials like “Ninjaflex” which behaves a lot like rubber (but tend to take longer to print.)

The Perfect prosthetic would combine different materials in a biological design. Bones would be made of a strong and light material, tendons and ligaments would be printed in a strong and flexible material and the skin would be made from a stretchy and grippy material. Printed all at once, these materials could make a biological hand that behaves just like the human hand.

We’ve got a long way to go but this is what I’m working on at Open Bionics. Please stop by our booth at the e-NABLE “Prosthetists Meet Printers” conference on September 28, 2014 to say hello. You can see our robotic hands in action!

If you can’t make the conference but want to be part of the project, please email: info@openhandproject.com or give us a tweet! @openbionics