Friday, January 30, 2009

And another comment from a reader....

I've been on my own quest to understand the demise of the iBot, because I'm a customer for a similar technology that costs even more, has even fewer users, and doesn't even exist yet as a product--the advanced prosthetic arm.

I think that the source of the original R&D dollars that created the technology, the terms of the licensing agreement between DEKA and IT, the manufacturing costs, etc. would all be interesting things to know as part of understanding why the effort didn't work, and, more importantly, how it could be different to succeed.

We don't have an example yet of a successful product to point to, but I've started in the belief that open source hardware/software or open design are the best ways to solve the problems of underserved markets like yours and mine. Maybe an "open iBot" is the solution.

Obviously, most people who need any product aren't interested in spending years helping with the R&D necessary to get it rolling, but that's the way I've come to feel about the problem.

Anyway, I'd love to hear more about what you've found, your final best guess on the number sold, and any more thoughts in general either on your blog, or by email to

Jon Kunhiolm

Jon, is it the Dean Kamen advanced prosthetic arm that you are interested in?

You said this technology costs even more than the iBOT... how much?

Your website is a very interesting idea. I haven't read all of it yet. Do you feel like it has helped? I'm not sure when you put up the site... maybe it was just recently and not much has happened yet?

I haven't found out any more information regarding the iBOT. My final best guess on how many were sold is less than 1,000.

Please keep in touch.


Jon K said...

Shannon -

Dean Kamen's "Luke Arm" is one of two. The other is this one, on which I'm one of the (over 300) engineers:
Either of these arms, in addition to being early prototypes needing much further development, will probably cost ten times what an iBot does. Instead of 4 motors (is that how many an iBot has?), a shoulder-level arm has as many as 27, and some of them are smaller than a centimeter in diameter. We guessed that our 15-joint hand prototype cost $6 million to make (ha ha), and might cost $300,000 in larger volumes. Cost to the consumer? We'll have to see, but at least 10 times the iBot is as good a guess as any, and I honestly think we'll be lucky to see a product, given your experience.

Our website has been around for a couple of years now, but things don't move extremely fast. We have several sites, including a wiki and a Ning social net, which are the places where more happens (all our current ideas for projects are on the wiki):

I think the sites have definitely helped attract attention to the issue, but we're only just now beginning to attract folks who are making meaningful contributions in development. It's also hard to get people past the idea that they need to interact with each other on the site, rather than calling or emailing me with ideas. I think the idea of folks hacking on their own medical devices is one that will take time to bear fruit. It's an experiment, and the jury's still out.

I'll let you know if I find out anything more about the iBot or have ideas for you guys.


Shannon said...

That's fantastic Jon. I really hope something comes out of it. I know there won't be many people who could afford a $300,000 prosthetic arm. And my guess is that Medicare would classify it as a "luxury" just like the iBOT.

The part about the arm being able to feel - that's really amazing. Although I am familiar with the phantom limb thing, I just don't understand it.