3D-printed £1,200 exoskeleton Titan Arm wins Dyson award

Titan Arm, a prototype powered upper-body exoskeleton, has just won the 2013 James Dyson Award for design and engineering.

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
Expertise Copy editing, football, Civilization and other old-man games, West Wing trivia
Nick Hide
2 min read

Forget pining for the hoverboard that will never come -- your strength-enhancing Powerloader is here. Titan Arm, a prototype powered upper-body exoskeleton, has just won the 2013 James Dyson Award for design and engineering.

Developed by a team at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, Titan Arm uses 3D printing techniques to stay cheap, and more importantly increases your lifting strength by the equivalent of 18kg.

Far from being designed to fight murderous alien brood mothers, the exoskeleton is intended to help rehabilitate people who've had serious arm injuries or strokes, and to give more power to the elbows of those who lift heavy objects for a living.

"Titan Arm is obviously an ingenious design," said vacuum magnate Dyson, who hand-picked the winners from a pool of 650 projects from around the world. "But the team’s use of modern, rapid -- and relatively inexpensive -- manufacturing techniques makes the project even more compelling."

The four students who came up with the concept win £30,000 to fund further development, and their university gets £10,000 to invest in facilities, which will be spent on improving its 3D printing setup.

A motor on the user's back transmits its power to the arm by metal cables, while a rigid back plate and straps help spread the weight evenly. The arm can be locked in place to make moving heavy loads around easier, and in its medical guise can stream telemetry back to your doctor. A battery gives 8 hours of use, with a recharge time of 30 minutes, and the whole shebang weighs just 9kg.

The prototype cost just £1,200 and the team hopes to make it commercially available for far less. "We wanted Titan Arm to be affordable, as exoskeletons are rarely covered by health insurance," says Titan Arm's Nick Parotta. "This informed our design decisions and the materials we used. Most structural components are machined from inexpensive aluminum."

Two runners-up -- a prosthetic hand that can read brain signals, and a plastic cast that uses the Kinect to scan broken limbs -- both win £10,000. They both make heavy use of 3D printing too.

Would you strap on one of these and take on villainous extraterrestrials? What other cool stuff have you seen use 3D printing? Extrude your comments below, or over on our plastic fantastic Facebook page.