A UK-based company is looking to some well-known properties to make prosthetic hands more appealing to children, and it's getting some real help from Disney. Open Bionics is a start-up focused on making low-cost 3D-printed prosthetics, and as part of Disney's Techstars Accelerator program, it's getting royalty-free licenses to create prosthetics modeled off Iron Man, Elsa from Frozen, and a glowing, buzzing "lightsaber hand" calling back to the Star Wars universe.
According to the Independent, Open Bionics was given $120,000 as part of the program to help fuel development of the new models, which are controlled by impulses from the user's muscles. Vibrating motors provide dual functionality: giving haptic feedback to the child when they fire a "rocket" with the Iron Man gauntlet, for example, but also serving as a mechanism indicating the strength of the grip the child is exerting. The LED lights also do double duty, providing a fun light show while also letting parents and doctors understand what signals are being sent to the device. (The Star Wars hand also lets the user change the color of the lights to match their lightsaber of choice. I vote for Darth Vader red.)
According to Open Bionics CEO Joel Gibbard, the goal is to help change the way children look at these kind of devices. "The power of these prosthetics is that the public perception is completely different. All of a sudden they're not being asked how they lost their hand, they're being asked where they got their cool robot hand, how does it feel, and how does it work?" Gibbard told the Independent. "What might have been perceived as their greatest weakness is seen as their greatest strength." It's a clever way to empower children; earlier this year we saw the impact this kind of initiative can have on a child when Robert Downey Jr. himself delivered a custom-made Iron Man prosthetic to a seven-year-old.
Of course, all the engaging design in the world doesn't matter if the devices aren't cost-effective, and that's another area where Open Bionics hopes to make a big difference: It's aiming to have the prosthetic hands available by the end of next year for around $500, with more designs on the way.