Satima Anankitpaiboon 3D Prints Prosthetic Hands

Satima Anankitpaiboon 3D Prints Prosthetic Hands

I caught up with Satima Anakitpaiboon at a coffee shop and shook hands with a very stylish 3D printed prosthetic! I've seen quite a few 3D printed hobby projects, and this is not one of them - the skill applied to her prints and the detail put into assembly are a reflection of a much deeper intent. She is not just tinkering. She is designing, creating, testing, and publishing as part of a movement. A creative open source movement to make life a little better for those of us who need... well.. a hand!

Satima holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Chulalongkorn University in Bankok, Thailand, a master's degree in Industrial and systems engineering from CSU Pueblo, and a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. The prosthetic hand I hold in mine is the product of a hundred or more hours of her own work to implement the open source designs originally published by the Japanese HACKberry project.

Satima is so unassuming in her presentation that the actual technology takes me off guard... With sensor block strapped to her arm,  she makes a fist and the android hand rapidly mimics flesh and bone... I was not seeing a crude prototype, but rather a beautiful piece of design from the future - the actual future! 

Can you tell me a little about the prosthetic hand that you have been working to create?

It's a robotic hand that uses an input signal from the amputee to control it.  

She walked me through how the parts fit together, and how it can be used to grip lightly with thumb and index finger, and with full force involving the other three fingers.

What makes an open source hand like this one different from the kind that is usually sold by medical suppliers?

The motorized prosthetic hands sold by medical suppliers are not only too expensive acquire, they're also expensive to maintain. The low cost prosthetic hands serve only natural appearance without sufficient functionalities and tend to cause the amputee’s low self-esteem.  The open source hand I'm working on, called HACKberry, has a futuristic look. It can be easier produced and repaired with a 3D printer.  All hardware and electronics are easy to acquire. These two factors make it affordable to make this hand available to amputees.

The designs for the hand's printing are published as 3D media files, the sort that could contain video game character information or blueprints for a house. Published as 'open source' and free to use, 3D printers anywhere in the world can be used to realize the designs in high resolution plastic.  Likewise, she explained, the electronic hardware that drives the hand's functions is spelled out in several excellent engineering documents. The schematics and firmware have been released into the open-source community that has sprung up around the HACKberry project. 

On a really geeky note, I was impressed by the sensor system the HACKberry uses. Rather than being driven by some sort of electrical skin-contact, the sensor uses reflected light off of a region of the skin. By placing the sensor over some region with even a small muscle, the smallest change in muscle tension translates into well sized but entirely controlled electrical impulses. The sensor can be easily attached to the body virtually anywhere and calibrated on the fly. Additionally, it seems to operate with exceptionally little noise, especially when compared to those sensors designed to pick up on nerve impulses. (Professional prosthetic sensors often require hours of special setup and calibration in order to locate the best skin regions to use.)

What do you see as the main barriers that you need to overcome?

After building the hand, the socket fitting for each amputee seem to be very challenging.  The socket fitting requires expertise and experience and is different from amputee to amputee.  Currently, even a socket created by a specialist won't guarantee comfort fitting for amputee.  [Having a poor fit] means the hand would likely be left in a closet.

Something interesting that she pointed out to me with respect to the HACKberry hand is that the design provides for some remarkable ability to scale it up and down. When producing an item with 3D printing technology, the final size of an object can be manipulated by simple scaling or through more complex alterations made with specialized design software. Other approaches such a scaling the socket for a wearer's arm can make up the final difference, allowing these arms to be constructed with the final fit in mind. 

Once these barriers have been overcome, can you describe how your project can have an impact? Who will benefit?

If socket fitting comfort can be achieved easier, more amputee would be interested in wearing this open source hand.  And if the socket with the same quality can be produced with a 3D printer it will lower the cost of sockets. Amputees in remote area would benefit from this open source hand.

Amputees in not-so-remote areas would benefit from this research and from her efforts to make it available as well. You can read posts and contributed work written by Satima on the HACKberry FORUM. Additionally, check out the following short video demonstration of Satima's prosthetic hand:

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