The Open Prosthetics Project blog (“Prosthetics Shouldn’t Cost An Arm and A Leg”) apparently hasn’t been updated since October 2006, and it’s a crying shame. OPP hopes to be to prosthetics development what Linux is to Microsoft — an open source design house which requires no licensing fees to build or share prosthetics engineering.
As the website notes:
All content and designs on this site are in the public domain, and we place no restrictions on their use. We encourage any derivative works, but all designs are registered periodically so that our work cannot be kept from the public by patents.
There was a flurry of publicity for OPP in early 2006, but I can’t find much of anything since then. The website says that OPP is working on three major projects, but the one that I think captures, in a nutshell, the kind of thinking they are bringing to the table is their prosthetic hand design. In OPP’s words:
We’ve been working on a mechanism for adaptive grasp that uses a flexible bag filled with small particles. Normally, the particles can slide past each other and the bag can easily change shape, but when the air is removed from the bag, it squeezes the particles together and they behave like a harder substance.
The prototype was the sushi-rice-filled finger of a dishwashing glove. Eventually, the rice was replaced by small glass beads, and the dishwashing glove with a surgical glove. A vacuum is created inside the glove, sucking the air out from between the rice or the beads, causing the prosthetic to grasp an object. There’s a video on the site showing the glove in action.
The concept’s breathtaking, and yet so simple — though the problem of supplying the vacuum undoubtedly isn’t.