How Disney is giving kids who've lost limbs superpowers

OpenBionics teamed up with Disney, Marvel and Star Wars to make bionic arms that make kids with limb loss feel like superheroes

Photo: OpenBionics

When a child is fitted with a prosthetic arm, they often feel self-conscious about the fact that it looks almost-and-yet-not-quite like the limb they have lost. One UK-based robotic medical technology company is turning this on its head, with movie- and video-game inspired bionic arms that make kids feel like they have superpowers.

Samantha Payne, Co-Founder and COO of OpenBionics, says she wanted to create a technology that would have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Her start-up tech company has the mission of developing robotic medical technology, such as bionic hands, while still being affordable. In fact, their multi-grip bionic arms cost about three times less than similar (and way less super) models on the market.

“In the beginning our focus was technology and functionality,”says Payne. “But when speaking to our users, we realized we had underestimated the psychological part of limb loss.”

OpenBionics wanted to design prosthetic arms that would appeal to children and make them feel super, so what better way than to have Disney on board? “We got them involved through an accelerated program. There were multiple rounds of pitching, and talking to the artists and creators at Disney. They were very excited about it,” says Payne.

Themes from Marvel, Disney, and Star Wars franchises are currently available.

Three character inspired prosthetic arms.
Photo: OpenBionics

Payne recalls fitting a young boy named Tamryn with a Star Wars arm for the first time:

“When we pulled it out off the package he threw his arms in the air and did a victory pose, then slowly pulled his arms back down and put his hand over his mouth. He was wide-eyed and couldn’t quite believe he was going to be able to keep this arm. The first thing he did was shake his dad’s hands and then give his dad a shoulder rub. Kids with limb loss often want to perform these gestures, even though they don’t actually feel them.”

On April 25, OpenBionics will introduce their new Hero Arm for people aged eight and up. It is the world’s first medically certified 3D printed bionic hand with long battery life, multi-grip versatility, and freeze mode—which is really good for holding a glass!

The arm is lightweight but super strong—just like the kids it’s designed for—and is able to lift up to 17lbs. Kids can also customize the Hero Arm to be whatever they want it to be, with many different covers to play around with, so that it goes with different moods and personal styles.  The goal is to make kids feel confident about their prostheses and change the image of prostheses from medical devices to bionic arms inspired by powerful characters.

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Kids can customize their arms by choosing their favourite colours, add any personalized phrases or words, and the sizes are custom to fit each person perfectly. The socket will also adapt as the child grows.  The superhero arms operate using sensors attached to the skin to detect muscle movements, and those muscle movements control the hand to open and close fingers.

OpenBionics is already in talks with SickKids Hospital, in Toronto, to bring their superhero prosthetics to Canada. We give this news a big bionic thumbs up!

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