A Tunisian startup is developing a 3D-printed bionic hand, hoping the affordable and solar-powered prosthetic will help amputees and other disabled people across Africa.
Unlike traditional devices, the artificial hand can be customized for children who otherwise would require an expensive series of resized models as they grow.
The company Cure Bionics also has plans to develop a video-gamelike virtual reality system that helps youngsters learn how to use the artificial hand through physical therapy.
Mohamed Dhaouafi, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Cure Bionics, designed his first prototype while still an engineering student in his home city of Sousse.
“One team member had a cousin who was born without a hand and whose parents couldn’t afford a prosthesis, especially as she was still growing up,” he said. “So we decided to design a hand.”
Dhaouafi launched his startup in 2017 from his parents’ home, at a time when many of his classmates chose to move abroad seeking higher salaries and international experience.
“It was like positive revenge,” he said. “I wanted to prove I could do it. I also want to leave a legacy, to change people’s lives.”
The device works with sensors attached to the arm that detect muscle movements, and artificial intelligence-assisted software interprets them to transmit instructions to the digits.
To teach youngsters how to use them, Cure has been working on a virtual reality headset that “gamifies” physical therapy. “Currently, for rehabilitation, children are asked to pretend to open a jar, for example, with the hand they no longer have,” Dhaouafi said.
“It takes time to succeed in activating the muscles this way. It’s not intuitive, and it’s very boring.”
In Cure’s version, the engineer said: “We get them to climb up buildings like Spider-Man, with a game score to motivate them, and the doctor can follow up online from a distance.”
Cure hopes to market its first bionic hands within a few months, first in Tunisia and then elsewhere in Africa, where more than three-quarters of people in need have no access to them, according to the World Health Organization.
“The aim is to be accessible financially but also geographically,” Dhaouafi said.