A few years ago, Natsuko, a Japanese woman, was diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time, the doctor gave her two choices: to die within a month or to have her arm amputated up to the shoulder. It was during this difficult period that she met another woman, also a victim of the disease. The latter played a decisive role in the choice of amputation. In 2013, they created Mission Arm Japan, an association dedicated to providing information for people concerned with upper limb problems (agenesis, amputation, double amputation and brachial plexus). Since then, this growing community is gathering during two different types of meetings. They meet as a family, one Saturday a month, for a drink and every Wednesday as makers!
It is in 2013 as well, that three young engineers from Tokyo University decided to embark on a crazy project. During their spare time, they would meet to design a 3D printed robotic hand from scratch. This hand, named Handiii, will receive a lot of media coverage. Taking advantage of their success, the trio launched their company, Exiii, whose objective is to sell accessible hand prostheses.
Natsuko learned of their existence thanks to television. They met and talked about the Google Impact Challenge, a competition that rewards non-profit initiatives around digital accessibility. In December of the same year, they filled in the application form for the competition. Although losing in finals, Mission Arm Japan received funds that would finance Exiii afterwards. A few months later, the company offered open source plans of a hand: the Hackberry.
Unfortunately, times are getting tough for Exiii. It is indeed difficult to sell hand prostheses in a country where there are not many amputees. In addition, some of the myoelectric prostheses are reimbursed in Japan (Ottobock: DMC and Sensor Speed, Touch Bionics: I-Limb). But this system is not without flaws: reimbursement is only made in the event of a work accident and the hands are far too big for women (I-Limb). Exiii was therefore successful in the media, but not commercially. If the issue of prosthesis accessibility is not resolved, Exiii contributes to the evolution and awareness of a handicap in the world. Thus, allowing amputees to regain self-confidence, to develop technical skills and to hope that one day, prostheses will be available for everyone.
Today, these three engineers are now working alone. If the trio is no more, they were probably far from imagining their impact. It was in 2013 that I discovered them on the net and it was six years later, in June 2019 that I was finally able to meet them during my stay in Tokyo. This trip to Japan revolves around a debate on the repaired man and I would like to thank Sandrine Maximilien, attaché to the Tokyo Embassy, who invited me.
Let’s go back to Exiii’s three accomplices:
- Tetsuya created Exiii design but I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him.
- Hiroshi continues the Exiii Inc. adventure and has started manufacturing controllers with sensory feedback for virtual reality. I was able to test Exos, an orthosis that allows you to feel the vibrations when using a drill or a weapon in virtual reality.
- Genta has taken the road to independence. He teaches at a university, advises and owns a 4m2 lab in the DMM.Make.Akiba, a coworking maker space. There, he leads every Wednesday, the volunteer of MAJ makers (Mission Arm Japan). If you order a Hackberry hand to assemble, he will prepare the kit himself.
We meet on Wednesday afternoon June 19, 2019. It is at the DMM.Make.Akiba that I learned everything you read.
By a twist of fate, a team of cameramen showed up and called out to us: ‘Can we film you for our report on the DMM. Make.AKIBA?’
Genta explained everything (in Japanese)
And a few weeks later, the report was broadcast on television:
At 6 pm, volunteers arrive for the weekly Mission Arm Japan meeting. While some make Lego hands or make the documentation, others are making an artistic prosthesis or a bottle holder for agenesis.
The makers from MAJ (Mission Arm Japan)
My Human Kit (MHK) and Mission Arm Japan (MAJ) are operating in a similar fashion: a project is organised around a User Monitor and a Project Director. However, I would like to point out that MHK may insist more on the involvement of the user monitor in a project.
After such a nice day, we ended up in a fantastic restaurant to celebrate.
Here is a one-minute summary of the day:
Even though we are using a different voltage (230V for France and 110V for Japan) I do feel that we are on the same wavelength. We are quite close despite the 9937 km that is separating us!
To be continued…