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A 100-dollar bionic hand: feasible or not?

Is it possible to create a bionic hand that is available to disabled people in the world, no matter what their socio-economic circumstances are? On 11 July, 25 TMC Employeneurs gathered to find the answer to this question, by sharing their opinions and expertises during an inspiring pizza session.

“In our world, technology offers many opportunities to improve our healthcare and lifestyle,” Hans d’Achard, Employeneur and organiser of the pizza session, tells. “Unfortunately, very few people have access to these technological innovations. There are millions of people who live in poor socio-economic conditions, and who have a serious need for these improvements, but they lack access to them. A recent meeting with the Afghan entrepreneur Yama Saraj taught me that a shocking 26.000 people are victims of landmines every year. These people are profoundly affected in many ways, including severe disabilities and reduced prospects for work. Robotic limbs, which can mimic the functions of missing body parts, could transform these people’s lives. However, the price of technology like this makes it impossibility. That’s why Yama took the initiative to design a bionic arm and leg which could be produced and sold at an affordable price, making robotic limbs available for anyone.”

“With robotic technology, we could improve the lives of thousands of disabled people. This motivated me to find out if robotic limbs could be made affordable to underprivileged people all around the world.”

Uniting skills and expertise

Inspired by Yama’s story, Hans decided to help him to find a solution for people who suffer from landmine accidents. Hans: “Working as a system architect assigned to companies like ASML, FEI and Philips, I know how mechatronic elements are becoming smaller, smarter and cheaper, and how the latest manufacturing methods allow us to mass produce. I asked myself whether it would be possible to create a 100-dollar bionic hand. While thinking about it, I realised that we have all the skills and expertise required to develop this within the community of TMC. That’s why I organised a pizza session dedicated to this topic, and as a spin-off to energize my TMC colleagues to start a project to make it a reality.”

Sense of purpose

The pizza session turned out to be a great success. “We started with an inspiring presentation by Yama and his co-workers Marco van Nieuwenhoven and Arie Rommers. Marco is a software designer who does voluntary work on the technology. Arie has direct experience: he lost his right hand as a child in an accident and explained how having a robotic hand has changed his life completely. After that, we started a brainstorm about whether it might be possible to create a bionic hand for 100 dollars. Since various business cells were represented, this led to some very interesting insights. It brought us to the conclusion that we are indeed capable of developing such a bionic hand, adding to ongoing work in the world-wide open source community.”

In the next period the team will be deciding in what way they can work together to build momentum. Hans: “I strongly believe we can accomplish something very unique and I am proud of the Employeneurs who are willing to take an extra step to help others. Personally, I have always been looking for opportunities to use my skills to benefit society, and I am glad to help by starting a project like this. The experience is giving my work an extra sense of purpose, and it is great to see that so many fellow Employeneurs have come on board!”

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