Open Bionics founder, Joel Gibbard named Young Design Engineer of the Year

Issue date: 29 October 2014

See Joel talking about his quest to develop low cost prosthetics in a TED x talk earlier this year.

The British Engineering Excellence Awards have honoured Open Bionics founder, Joel Gibbard with the prestigious award of Young Design Engineer of the Year at a recent ceremony in London.

In a tightly fought category, Joel beat off stiff competition to win the award for his groundbreaking project -The Open Hand Project,to manufacture a 3D printed bionic hand for less than £600.

Working alongside Sammy Payne, his company Open Bionics, is based in the Technology Business Incubator at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). Their focus is on helping the estimated 11.4 million hand amputees worldwide, through the production of low cost prosthetic limbs using rapid prototyping technology.

Open Bionics' prosthetic hand offers much of the functionality of a human hand. It uses electric motors instead of muscles and steel cables instead of tendons. 3D printed plastic parts work like bones and a rubber coating acts as the skin. All of these parts are controlled by electronics to give it a natural movement that can handle all sorts of different objects.

Joel was nominated for the Young Design Engineer of the Year award by a friend from his old employers, National Instruments (NI). NI played a huge supporting role in Joel's successful crowd-funding campaign for The Open Hand Project.

Judging the award, the panel said of Joel, “A highly motivated, dedicated young engineer with multidisciplinary skills and an impressive record of achievement already.” They were also impressed by the open source nature of his work and that his design would hugely benefit many people.

Giving his reaction to receiving the award, Joel Gibbard, said, “It's fantastic to receive recognition for our work, I was lucky to have been nominated and feel even luckier to have won. The whole event inspired me to think of the future of engineering.

“Keeping work open source is the only way technology can move forward faster. If I patented my work the whole process of making better prosthetics for amputees would become slower. We want progression, so I'd be happy if someone took my designs and improved them.

“Things are going very well. We have some new designs, we're trying out faster ways of 3D scanning, and we're working with a couple of amputees to test the hand. We've been a bit lucky really because we've had so many people volunteer to test it. It's great.”

This award is the latest in a long line of successes for the inspirational start-up. They are global finalists inIntel's Make it Wearable competition. The winner is announced on 11 November.

Paul Stacey, Wearable Technology and Smartphone Marketing Manager, Intel EMEA, said, “The work at Open Bionics is inspirational. At its best – technology can deliver extraordinary, life changing experiences. What can be more life changing than affordable, accessible prosthetics?.”

Closer to home, Open Bionics, The Open Hand Project and Joel himself were all recently nominated for The SPARKies Tech Awards 2014.

The awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 30 October at Komedia in Bath, as part of the Bath Digital Festival.

For all the latest information from Open Bionics, visit: or follow them on Twitter:@openbionics.

The Technology Business Incubator at the BRL is a unique pilot program to stimulate and support technology start-ups. It includes undergraduate, graduate, post-graduates, staff and partner spinout businesses to ensure up-to-date and detailed understanding of technology start-up needs and enhance BRL's creative and entrepreneurial culture. It also provides valuable input into taught courses, research and research exploitation.


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