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Open Hands: How A Young Bristolian Is Changing the Robotics Industry

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Joel Gibbard’s Open Hand Project is opening eyes to open source. In his first piece for Rife magazine, George Devereaux speaks to a young person who is set to change the lives of amputees and engineers across the world.

Copyright: Open Hand Project

Joel Gibbard is a 23-year-old Plym­outh University robotics graduate whose tal­ent, selflessness and drive are pushing the bound­aries of robotic prosthetics and 3D printing.

Based in Bristol, Joel runs the Open Hand Project, working towards building prosthetic hands that are roughly 100 times cheaper than current leading prosthetics, making them more accessible to the general public. Joel started the project only last year, and in such a short space of time, he has seen it take huge leaps forward, with great success from his Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and his relocation to the University of the West of England’s Robotics Lab, a ‘technology incubator.’ On the face of it, this project has the potential to help a ‘handful’ of people but its potential spans way beyond amputees.

What inspired Joel to get into robotics? Joel comes from a technical background, growing up with two architects for parents. Furthermore, his dad had always been into electronics, it seems like Joel’s talents run in the family. As a kid, Joel would work with his dad building robots, he started learning from an early age. But when it came down it, asking; ‘What got you into robotics?’ I was answered with: ‘Toys got me into it, primarily Lego’. He explained how he would receive the Lego Technic kits for every birthday and Christmas, he couldn’t get enough of them. Who would have thought such an innocent childhood hobby, could lead to one man making such a difference to so many lives.

But why did Joel choose to focus on creating robotic hands? ‘Natural movement is what I find most interesting, that’s what drew me to hands’. This fascination drove Joel to visit his local library and take out ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ a book he describes as the bible of medicine. Reading this, he gave himself a grounding in how the human hand worked, and was able to begin designing the robotic hand from there, all off of his own back. ‘I guess it’s kind of selfish, but I tend to like to work alone’ he says. Joel has so far ran the whole project by himself, saying I like the control, working with others when you’re not paying them is difficult, you can’t say no that’s wrong, go back and do it a different way’.

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