Every once in a while you come across a technological evolution that really and truly matters. Here's a company using existing smartphone technology to create affordable robotic limbs.
Sometimes we talk about smartphones and smartwatches as if they are the single most important creation on the planet. As they currently stand, these forms of technology are a very important tool for modern day life. But every so often someone takes this technology and applies it to something that is truly significant.
Such is the case with a company called exiii. With the help of smartphone technology, this little-known company has created a cybernetic arm powered and controlled by a smartphone. Exiii has created a 3D printed myoelectric arm that will sell for considerably less than the standard prosthetic. NOTE: First reports pegged the handiii selling at approximately $300. This was incorrect, as it was only the material cost and did not include labor and other factors. What the going price will be, no one knows (as the handiii is not for sale yet).
The arm works in conjunction with a smartphone app to interpret signals from the wearer's remaining limb to convert those signals into movement. The connection between arm and smartphone is wireless—so the wearer wouldn't need to have the smartphone constantly attached.
If ever there was a piece of technology that should be given the spotlight, it is the handiii robotic limb.
This, dear readers, is the ultimate in wearable technology. Not only do these prosthetic limbs take existing technology—already proven to stand up to the rigors of daily life—but they promise to actually be affordable. How can exiii create a prosthetic limb at a significantly reduced cost? Consider this: The going price of an upper prosthetic arm can range anywhere between $3,000 and $30,000. Markup aside, standard prosthetics contain custom embedded computers to control the movement. This causes a considerable increase in price. So exiii has managed to drop the cost of the handiii by simply making use of already existing technology to do the "heavy lifting" for the arm. With the help of a smartphone app, exiii didn't have to bother re-inventing a very crucial wheel. No internal CPU—just EMG sensors, servos, links, gears, and other bits to drive the action of the arm, wrist, hand, and fingers ... all wrapped in a 3D printed shell:
Wearable technology at its finest.
What's best, exiii plans on open sourcing their designs. This means that other companies (small and large) can take advantage of this amazing creation. Already the handiii is proving to be more functional than most prosthetic arms. Thanks to inexpensive 3D printing and existing smartphone technology, the handiii could upend the prosthetic market.
At the moment, exiii is only selling the handiii to enterprise companies as a purpose-built robotic arm for research. Hopefully this doesn't mean they plan on handing over their designs such that a larger company can take advantage of the technology and turn the handiii over to the public at exorbitant prices.
Regardless of what exiii plans to do with the handiii, this usage of existing technology is brilliant and should only serve to inspire other minds to make use of smartphones to bring even more profound creations to light. My hopes is that exiii retains the handiii in-house and offers it at a cost that remains within reach of the average consumer.
Wearable technology need not be limited to smartwatches, glasses, and other "amenity systems". Making use of existing technology to enable (or E-nable, as it were) amputees is a stroke of genius that needs to be encouraged. Although smartphones and smartwatches are an incredible technological evolution, when compared to devices such as the handiii, their importance becomes relative. That such a combination as the smartphone and the handiii exists, a certain profundity is given to the idea of wearables.
Regardless of the price that will eventually be placed on the handiii, I say bravo to exiii for what they've created. And should the company open source the designs of the handiii, the sky's the limit for innovation in this arena.