Robotic hand picks up UK Dyson Award

A prototype, 3D-printed robotic hand that can be made faster and cheaper than current prosethetics has won the UK leg of the Dyson Awards.
08 September 2015

Interview with 

Peter Cowley, Tech Investor


Last week Joel Gibbard won the UK leg of the James Dyson Award for his 3D Robotic handprinted prosthetic arm. Joel will now go on to represent the UK in the international Dyson Awards. Winning any type of award is always good but why are we excited about this one? Peter Cowley, tech investor, told Graihagh Jackson a bit more about the awards...

Peter - Well, many people will have heard of Dyson and the various forms of domestic plants he's produced. About 8 or 9 years ago, he set up a charity specifically to entice engineering students, probably his own students from 18 countries around the world to enter into this award which is really just to find the best product that would solve a problem.

Graihagh - Okay, I see and tell us a little bit more about this year's winner. What is this prosthetic hand?

Peter - This hasn't yet won the international award. It might do of course.

Graihagh - So, this has just won the UK leg to get into the finals.

Peter - The final ones were announced just before Christmas. This is in fact a bionic hand and the idea behind is it's 3D printed so it looks like a hand. If you went and looked online, you can see they're doing versions which is purely plastic and then ones that are covered which look the right sort of colour for a hand. But the important thing about it is that it's driven by electrical signals in muscles in the forearm so that with some training and some tuning or tweaking, one will be able to actually operate the fingers and the thumb, and pick items up, just by effectively doing what one would've done before if one still had a hand.

Graihagh - Okay and this is not available already yet in the prosthetics industry?

Peter - I'm not one of the judges on this panel so I can't answer that, but clearly, there are some high profile judges who have chosen this thing. There's various things about it, a.) it's open source which is likely unusual, b.) it's already got some funding from the crowd (some product funding), and c.) it's apparently going to be considerably cheaper than anything else that's out there at the moment.

Graihagh - So, lots of positives there. How much will this win and will that then take it off the ground and into the wider world? What's the scope for it?

Peter - No. This will have won about 5,000 pounds. If it wins the international award, it will win about 30,000 pounds. Those numbers are not big enough clearly to actually generate a product and get it out into the market. So, there are various other ways of doing that.

Graihagh - You mentioned the crowdsourcing.

Peter - The crowd, yes. There were various forms of crowdsourcing. This is a product crowdsourcing but there's also a crowdsourcing of loans which may not be possible for early stage business or crowdsourcing of equity. But there are other ways of getting equity into a business. So, it commonly takes some hundreds of thousands of dollars or pounds or euros just to get to start up a business and this prize won't be anything like enough to do that.

Graihagh - Just giving them a little - perhaps an edge and in terms of previous winners, are there any that we might have heard of?

Peter - One that's probably most successful of all the international awards at the moment, you probably haven't heard of is called Plumis which is a fire suppression system for the home. There are many thousands of homes already fitted with them, but even the people who've got them fitted won't necessarily know the product. It's one of these things like a fire extinguisher.

Graihagh - It's top secret, yeah.

Peter - That's sits in the corner and doesn't do anything until there's a fire. This system works by mist. So, this is a very small mist droplets which float in the air and they get pulled into a flame. So the idea behind it is it would either fit underneath the tapper on the wall, be set off by heat alarm, not by a smoke alarm and then it will put the fire out. At the same time of course, the alarm is going off and one hopefully get out of the building quickly. But if one was disabled or asleep perhaps then this has got a good chance of saving the person or people.

Graihagh - I guess it gives you a bit more time perhaps if you were disabled. It's not easy if you're in a wheelchair to get out of the house as quickly as you might like.

Peter - It's not just time, but it also could put the fire out. I mean, the collateral damage, if you had a fire in the bottom floor of a block of flats, imagine what that could do there. The other thing about sprinklers is, sprinklers distribute an awful lot of water. This mist system distributes and it only uses about 8 times less. So, the actual damage after the fire is put out is much less.

Graihagh - Yeah, because I've actually - sadly, a friend had a fire and actually, one of the most damaging things was the water but also, the smoke as well. The smoke was really damaging.

Peter - Yeah.

Graihagh - Both things are cheaper alternatives to what we already had. Is there anyone who's invented something that just wasn't there before that's completely like new on the market?

Peter - It's a really canny one which I actually met the guy, the inventor a couple of years ago which is to try and stop fish that are too small being picked up in a net. It's hard to imagine on the radio, this, but it's a little device that's a size of a ring which allows little fish to swim through. So, this is actually in the mesh of the fishing net. So every now and then, there'll be a little ring and the important thing about it, this ring is actually illuminated. So underwater, the fish for whatever reason, are then attracted to this illumination and then they will swim, and they'll get into safety because tens of millions of tons of fish wasted because it's either wrong type or they're too small.

Chris - Is that an engagement ring because I was thinking about they might be female fish you see and they might be attracted to a very sparkly...?

Peter - This is remarkably good for somebody who has just got back from Australia. How do you manage to crack a joke, Chris?

Chris - That's why I made it because for me, it's about 4 o'clock in the morning, right?

Graihagh - Thank you so much, Peter. Peter Caley, tech investor.


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