Robotic Hand with Bones, Ligaments and Tendons Created for First Time Using 3D Printing

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Using new innovations in 3D printing, scientists at ETH Zurich have succeeded for the first time in printing a robotic hand with bones, ligaments, and tendons—all made of different polymers in one go.

The various polymers can be fine-tuned to replicate the elasticity or rigidity of a human hand, representing a major advancement over existing 3D-printed prosthetics.

While 3D printing technology was previously limited to fast-curing plastics, researchers have now made it suitable for slow-curing plastics as well.

They say these materials have “decisive” advantages as they have enhanced elastic properties and are more durable and robust.

The use of such polymers is made possible by new technology developed by researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland and a US startup from Mass. Institute of Technology which can be used to create delicate structures and parts with cavities as desired. InkBit from MIT now offers the technology and prints complex objects on customer request.

The technology also makes it easy to combine soft, elastic, and rigid materials.

“We wouldn’t have been able to make this hand with the fast-curing polyacrylates we’ve been using in 3D printing so far,” said Thomas Buchner, a doctoral student from ETH Zurich who led the authorship of the paper published on their work.

“We’re now using slow-curing thiolene polymers. These have very good elastic properties and return to their original state much faster after bending than polyacrylates,” he said, adding this makes them ideal for making complex prosthetics.

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