The Open Hand Project: Prototyping an Advanced Prosthetic Hand Using LabVIEW and NI Data Acquisition Hardware

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"With LabVIEW and NI data acquisition hardware, I rapidly produced a working prototype and saved this crowd-funded project crucial time and money. The flexibility of graphical system design is pivotal to the future success of the project."

- Joel Gibbard, Open Hand Project

The Challenge:
Creating an open-source, low-cost robotic prosthetic hand to make upper limb prostheses more accessible to amputees.

The Solution:
Using NI LabVIEW software and NI PCIe hardware to test and control an innovative mechanical prosthetic hand design using a combination of 3D printed parts and off the shelf components that dramatically reduces price and removes the manufacturing limitations usually associated with advanced prosthetic hands. The mechanical design was then brought to life using NI hardware and software, meaning a fast development time and highly optimised solution.

Joel Gibbard - Open Hand Project

I wanted to make a positive impact and portray robotics as something to revere rather than fear for my final year project at Plymouth University. I designed and built a low-cost prosthetic hand, which most of my professors told me would not be possible in two university semesters. Prosthetic hands are magnificent devices capable of providing a large amount of dexterity using simple control systems. However, they cost between £7,000-£70,000; far too much for most people to afford, especially in developing countries. I proved my professors wrong and created a fully functioning prototype that went on to win three awards for innovation and excellence.


I realized that I needed more than just research and a working prototype to make an impact. For an idea to really benefit people it had to be accessible—too many innovations never make it out of the lab. I created the Open Hand Project and the Dextrus robotic prosthetic hand to address this problem. This open-source project offered all of the designs for download for free and my goal was to create an advanced, functional prosthesis for under £650.

The Market

Existing robotic prosthetic hands are custom fitted and the user needs training to use them. This requires consultations and high medical bills as one can expect to pay between £25,000 and £78,000 for a device fitting. These expenses are not typically covered by the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), so the patient must privately fund their advanced myoelectric prosthesis. The Dextrus hand, however, connects to an existing NHS fitted prosthesis using external sensors and batteries. This means anyone with an upper limb prosthesis can use it with no additional custom fitting.

How It Works

The prosthetic hand reads electromyographical (EMG) signals from electrodes placed above muscles on the surface of the user’s skin and interprets this information as an open or close signal before transmitting commands to the hand. The hand has five individually actuated digits that mould around the object that the person is trying to grasp. Each finger uses force feedback to detect when it must stop moving and hold its position. I created the mechanical parts of the hand using a commercial-grade 3D printer and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic (ABS).

I used National Instruments tools to test the prototype Dextrus hand throughout development. The combination of an NI PCIe-6321 multifunction DAQ device and an NI SCB-68A shielded I/O connector block provided simple connection to all inputs and outputs that control the hand, read the EMG signals from patient muscles, and performed additional tests all at the same time. The test system developed with NI products is extremely efficient in terms of price, cabling, and space.

The EMG signals are the minute voltages that muscles produce when they flex or extend and can be heavily influenced by the computer equipment noise around the sensors. Previously, the noise was more powerful than the signal, requiring significant advanced filtering to reach the signals of interest. The NI equipment was nicely shielded with the NI SHC68-68-EPM noise protected cable and a 1.5 mm thick brushed steel cover over the NI SCB-68A connector block. With this protection, I could view the subtleties of the signal and use NI LabVIEW software to rapidly prototype different filtering techniques before designing any hardware, which saved time and money.

The Future

After the project achieves its crowd funding goal, I will create the next prototype and use the information gathered so far to improve strength and reliability. In the near future, I will use LabVIEW to repurpose my NI equipment to test the electronics, ultimately performing validation tests on completed hands. Customers can then purchase assembled hands or the more technically minded can use the open-source plans to create their own hands, which saves time and more money. Using 3D printing to create the plastic parts makes it easy to customize hands with different colours so people can opt for something unique and individual.

The project is on track to achieve its goal of bringing low-cost prosthetic hands to a broader audience. With LabVIEW and NI data acquisition hardware, I rapidly produced a working prototype and saved this crowd-funded project crucial time and money. The flexibility of graphical system design is pivotal to the future success of the project.

Author Information:
Joel Gibbard
Open Hand Project

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