21 Jul 2016

3D printing a bionic arm

From Our Changing World, 9:16 pm on 21 July 2016

Corey Symon is a trombone-playing 14-year old with a passion for the sport of fencing. He was also born without his right-hand and forearm. Now, thanks to Dunedin’s International Science Festival and US non-profit Limbitless Solutions, he is the proud owner of a 3D-printed bionic arm.


Limbitless Solution was set up by Albert Manero two years ago, when he realised there was a need for cheap prosthetic arms for kids who were missing all or part of their arm. He decided that open source software and 3D printing was a way to produce a robust arm that could then be fitted with electronics, powered by a rechargeable battery.

Iron man bionic arm

A bionic arm begins life as 3D printed plastic that then receives a custom paint job, before being fitted with its electronics. This is the Iron Man arm made for Alex. Photo: Limbitless Solutions / Kt Crabb Photography

The arms are decorated to match the personality of the recipient – the first arm that Limbitless Solution built and gifted went to Alex, a boy with a love of the robotic character Iron Man. Corey’s arm is sleek and grey, modelled on a sports car’s racing lines.

It takes about 30 hours to 3D print a bionic arm, and costs about US$330 in material, says engineer Brendan Jones, who has been in New Zealand to help fit (and fix) Corey’s new arm.

Corey has had prosthetic arms before, but they have had limited movement, relying on him flexing his whole arm to make the thumb open and close.

Corey and Brendon

Corey Symon (left) and Limbitless Solution engineer Brendon Jones fix a damaged finger on Corey's bionic arm. The arms are designed to be easily repairable. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

His new arm has a fully opening and closing hand. Corey wears three electrodes that are glued to his stump, and small electric signals produced as he contracts and relaxes his muscles are enough to open and then close the hand.

Albert is an aerospace engineering student, and Limbitless Solution relies on donations and volunteers to make each arm.

You can hear Albert in conversation with Jesse Mulligan here.

Corey and Vanda

Corey Symon gives his mother Vanda a bionic hug. Photo: Limbitless Solutions / Kt Crabb Photography

Corey, Katie and Albert

Corey Symon - with his new bionic arm, and non-profilt Limbitless Solution founder Albert Manero and photographer Katie Manero Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

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