Autodesk Gallery Exhibit: Bionic Is Beautiful

Bionic_exhibit

The Autodesk Gallery at One Market in San Francisco celebrates design — the process of taking a great idea and turning it into a reality. With about 60 different exhibits regularly on display that showcase the innovative work of Autodesk customers, the gallery illustrates the role technology plays in great design and engineering. Autodesk Gallery Ambassadors conduct gallery tours as a sideline to their day jobs. The tours provide employees with opportunities to practice public speaking in front of small groups.

When I was growing up, there was an American TV show called The Six Million Dollar Man. It was about a man who had been augmented with bionic parts. What was once science fiction is now somewhat of a reality. With regard to the Bionic is Beautiful exhibit:


People

Software

Hardware

  • Arduino // more
  • microcontroller boards
  • motors
  • sensors
  • batteries
  • reflection-type photosensors
  • circuit substrates built into battery boxes

Software engineer, Genta Kondo, didn't start out to help others. It was all about the science. The science of myoelectric prosthetics, to be exact — those that are controlled by the electrical signals muscles naturally produce when tensed. A lifelong sports nut, Kondo had always been fascinated by motor control.

Following a stint at Sony, Kondo struck out on his own when he realized how little technology was actually being used in modern prosthetics (even though they cost thousands of dollars). Eager to tackle the science, Kondo thought the burgeoning 3D printing industry could be the answer to lower costs.

Exiii was soon born, created with two friends from Panasonic (Mechanical Engineer, Hiroshi Yamaura, and Industrial Designer, Tetsuya Konishi). Their goal was to make a functional, affordable, and aesthetically appealing prosthetic arm that people would not want to hide, but rather to show off. This was no small feat. The result was the HACKberry. Now Kondo is all about helping people, with an ambitious goal of increasing bionic arm penetration in Japan. Once more, no small feat, but if anyone can do it, Exiii can.

Prosthetic limbs are not an everyday sight. Exiii understands that a big part of their job is to make help change public perception about what is considered "normal" in society today. As such, Exiii chose to make the HACKberry look futuristic instead of mimicking the look of an organic hand. To further these efforts, Exiii is making handiii (the smarts that enable the HACKberry) an open source technology, accessible to anyone. Their hope is that if they can involve more innovative thinkers, then they can elevate this idea one step further. As more users are involved with this process, feedback can be gathered faster and development can also accelerate.

Technology

The HACKBerry is created using off-the-shelf components and 3D printed parts. The cost is less than $300 — a far cry from the $6,000,000 featured on that old TV show. The sensors in the HACKberry detect impulses from muscles in the limb and those signals are processed by an inexpensive computer, the Arduino, to move the prosthetic fingers. Something that makes Exiii's approach so novel is that the handiii can also be controlled remotely through a smartphone.

So far, so good. In 2013, Exiii's founders won 2nd place at the James Dyson Awards. The James Dyson Award is an international design award that celebrates, encourages, and inspires the next generation of design engineers. The Award is open to current and recent design engineering students. But that's not all, ex-LINE-CEO, Akira Morikawa, is Exiii's utmost supporter and wears the handiii for demonstrations at events. LINE is a freeware app for instant communications on electronic devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and personal computers.


Thanks to the Autodesk Gallery team for the descriptive text for this blog post.

The Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. There is a guided tour on Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and a self-guided audio tour available anytime. Admission is free. Visit us.

Beauty is alive in the lab.