The 3D printed ‘Hero arms’ changing lives and perceptions around the world

Turning disabilities into superpowers. This is the moto adopted by Bristol-based bionic limb manufacturer, Open Bionics.

Available to fit both adults and children, the ‘Hero arms’ that Open Bionics build are the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arms, with multi-grip functionality which mimics the capability of a human limb incredibly closely. Bucking the traditional approach of skin-coloured ‘mannequin’ style limbs, the Hero arms are futuristic, sleek and distinct in their appearance. Children can even choose ‘skins’ for their arms in the styles of Star Wars, Marvel Iron Man and Disney’s Frozen. Open Bionics aims to reshape perceptions around limb difference and make pioneering heroes of the recipients of their ground-breaking product.

Foresight led a £4.7 million investment round into Open Bionics in early 2019 through the Foresight Williams Technology EIS Fund, providing capital for Open Bionics to scale the business further. The ‘Hero arm’ revolutionises the prostheses industry and we intend for our investment to assist Open Bionics in making these life-changing prosthetics even more widely available.

A key focus of Open Bionics for their ‘Hero arms’ was to make them as affordable as possible, but recently, through funding by the NHS Veterans’ Prosthetics Panel, accessibility has come one step further. War veteran Darren Fuller became the first person to receive a ‘Hero arm’ on the NHS. Having lost the lower part of his right arm in Afghanistan during an incident involving mortar ammunition in 2008, Darren now works for Blesma, the limbless veterans’ charity, as an outreach officer.

Quoted in The Telegraph, Darren said “To be the first veteran to get one is fantastic, but it leads on to me being hopefully the first of many.

"The first few weeks have been a voyage of discovery. There are so many things I'm doing two-handed compared to before, and so many things I'm still discovering”.

Open Bionics see each ‘hero arm’ recipient as a bionic hero, collecting and collating their individual stories to reshape the societal narrative around differently abled people. One recipient, Danny Florence lost his right hand, fingers from his left hand, and both legs to meningococcal septicaemia when he was 5 years old. He generally avoided using prosthetic limbs throughout his life but after the birth of his first child Joshua, Danny began to raise funds for a ‘hero arm’ to assist him with the day to day tasks involved with raising his baby boy.

Foresight’s investment came from our Foresight Williams Technology EIS fund which is run in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering. Hardware start-ups of any kind traditionally represent difficult territory for investors due to a lack of engineering knowledge and uncertainty over potential growth. The large investment sums needed to get a hardware start-up off the ground exacerbate the problem, making investors even less inclined to financially back an expensive project that they don’t understand. This can mean that incredibly promising hardware start-ups don’t always get the support they deserve to reach the right markets. This is what makes the Foresight Williams Technology team so unique. Foresight’s financial expertise is married with Williams Advanced Engineering’s engineering prowess, meaning that the start-ups we invest in receive not only financial guidance but specialist technical mentoring and access to state-of-the-art facilities.

At Foresight we consider the partnership to be our unique value-add allowing us to spot and fund the most promising hardware start-ups; those that have the potential to change processes, lives, perhaps even perceptions, around the world.