Creating prosthetics that are low-cost and capable of providing feedback to the brain is a massive challenge, but a student at the University of Leeds seems to have pulled it off. For his final year project in the Product Design bachelors, Lorenzo Spreafico created a 3D-printed arm that incorporates vibrotactile feedback, relaying information about how firmly a person is gripping or touching an object via vibrations to their skin.
The design is relatively simple. Pressure sensors on the fingertips connect to vibrating disc motors in the wearer’s stump to alert them to the level of force they’re applying to an object. The user can regulate the level of vibration they experience via a knob, or turn the feature off completely if they’re in a situation where they want to avoid constant buzzing.
Spreafico was motivated to create this particular design when he noticed that the price of new advanced prosthetics is way out of reach for most people. Whereas new prosthetics can cost somewhere between £30,000 to £100,000, Spreafico estimates his design will cost only £3,000. Part of the reason why the price can be so low is that the arm is designed as one single component so it comes out of the 3D printer fully assembled.