A general practitioner designed a robotic hand prosthesis for a patient and made it at home, using a 3D printer and simple tools available to anyone. The artificial hand is precise enough to write and grasp objects, such as an apple, with confidence. All this, at extremely low costs.
The general practice is a privileged point of listening to patients’ problems and seems destined for progressive expansion, becoming a meeting point with technology. Until now, the reference has been to first level diagnostic methods, but the evolution of medicine seems to include further surprising developments, such as robotics. In fact, with the spread of new prototyping techniques such as 3D printing, technologies that were previously reserved for hospitals and large research centres are becoming accessible on the territory.
“I will start by saying that I don’t have a formal preparation in the field of robotics” says Matteo Capobussi, family doctor in Triuggio, a Lombard town of 9000 inhabitants. “I’m just a fan. My profession as a doctor also consists in studying the most recent scientific evidence produced by universities and the international scientific community and then adapt and apply it to the local reality and the daily life of the individual patient. Until now, this has only been possible on the level of knowledge; not on that of technical innovations,” he explains.
“In recent years there has been a silent revolution, still unknown to most, that will change the way we live technology“. The reference is to 3D printing and electronic prototyping platforms, such as Arduino. “Now you can download objects from the Internet, as well as files. This has opened up possibilities that were unthinkable until recently. Of course, we are still at the beginning: you can only print small plastic objects and to animate them with engines, basic knowledge of electronics and programming are required. But the army of enthusiasts is becoming more and more numerous, to the point of founding a movement with a precise name, the Makers“.
But how does all this fit into the medical field? “Bringing technology closer to the end user allows the intervention to be personalised, according to the principles of Evidence Based Medicine, including listening to the patient, the dynamic nature of the relationship between doctor and patient, observation of the interaction between patient and healthcare intervention. In essence, the family doctor knows the needs and desires of his patients better than anyone else. For example, in the project I took into account, the particular disability of the patient, who still retains part of the wrist, while to use a standard industrial prosthesis would have required surgery“.
There are also limits, however. “Of course, some shortcuts had to be used. For example, reliable myocelectric signal detection technology is not available at the hobby level. That’s why I designed a control glove to be worn on the other hand. The prosthesis repeats the movements of the glove. To allow the hands to move independently, I wrote a special software“.
How long does it take to make such an object? “It took me about six months, in my spare time. Before starting, however, I did a lot of documentation work to look for other projects of this kind, anticipating potential difficulties and taking inspiration for their technical solutions. In turn, I have made all the drawings available, according to the open source philosophy that foresees the maximum possible diffusion. I hope that someone more skilled than me can carry on with the project and improve it further“.