“Imagine a completely robotic being consciously controlled by a biological brain,” YouBionic’s Federico Ciccarese tells us. And though my mind goes almost directly to the massive Jaegers from Pacific Rim, there is a real world example of Ciccarese’s idea that could soon become a reality.
YouBionic, an Italian startup founded in 2014 by Ciccarese, has dedicated itself to developing technologies to augment the human body. One of the company’s main endeavours has been the creation of the robotic YouBionic Arm.
“Youbionic Arm is an exact reconstruction of the human arm,” says Ciccarese. “It moves in space through realistic movements that makes it able to replace ours.”
Though still very much in its prototyping stage, the YouBionic founder sees the robotic arm as not only a way to augment the human form by adding a third (albeit inorganic) arm but also as a possible prosthetic for people who have either lost a body part or the functionality of it.
“I have been studying for years how the human body works and design interfaces that can integrate with it,” Ciccarese elaborates. “At this moment, experimental devices may appear but soon they will be a great evolution. These devices can increase people’s abilities when worn by a healthy body, but can also recover abilities if they replace non-functioning body parts.”
YouBionic recently released a new video of a YouBionic arm prototype, which showcases the most up-to-date version of the bionic limb, made from the most promising components so far. The video shows the robotic arm clenching its fist in a natural-looking way and moving its wrist and elbow joints. The second half of the video shows how the robotic arm can be worn by a human, effectively giving the person a third arm.
The recent version of the bionic arm also features a range of updates to the hand. In it, each finger is integrated as a standalone part, adding modularity. That is, users could choose to create different configurations, including a three-finger clamp and more.
3D printing has played a critical role in the development of the YouBionic Arm, as it has enabled Ciccarese and his team to create low-cost prototypes and push development ahead. “I use the flexibility of 3D printing to create low-cost prototypes,” says the innovator. “I sell my results to fund new research and so on.”
Even with 3D printing at the company’s disposal, however, YouBionic has faced challenges in developing a highly advanced (and low-cost) robotic arm. One of the biggest challenges of the project, Ciccarese tells us, was creating a 3D printed structure which was resistant and could move smoothly. Presently, the company believes its low-cost prototype can still compete with far more expensive industrial robotic arms.
In terms of applications, Ciccarese believes his bionic arm could have applications in the military, partly because of its interest in pursuing and investing in research of that kind. “I am working on an advanced control based on the electrical activities produced by the brain,” he adds. “Youbionic Arm has also been conceived as a stand-alone device that can perform preprogrammed movements, or to be controlled remotely.”
Currently, YouBionic is seeking investors to support the development of the robotic arm. The ultimate goal, as stated previously, is to create a completely robotic arm which can be controlled by a biological brain.