In three months and with 130 euros, they invented a smart bionic hand for disadvantaged populations

by bold-lichterman

I will tell you this beautiful story. But I will tell you something else first before. So take a little time. You will see, worth it. It feels good after …

This is the second year that I have participated in the jury of the Orange Foundation’s solidarity Fablabs program. I do it on a voluntary basis. You might be surprised: after all, it’s just “green washing” as they say.

Foundations are the good conscience of large groups that earn a lot of money. Ok, no doubt. Moreover, it’s true, no media talks about what the Orange foundation does. I understand. And it is undoubtedly healthy.

But I have been participating for more than a year. And I want to talk about it.

Because the stories that I discover every year are just super beautiful. And because I believe in the power of stories. In their ability to inspire us. The Orange Foundation is perhaps only a marketing investment, seen from afar. Okay.

But that’s not how its General Secretary, Brigitte Audy, saw it, who has managed to lead, all over the world, a generous network of women and men united by human values. Unusual characters, in Africa, India, France …

I always see them smiling. And often dance in the middle of meals. Because life looks a bit like that when different cultures come together for the common good.

It is not like that either that the volunteers, employees of Orange, who get involved. Volunteer then.

And that’s not how all these young people live it who, thanks to this funding, have found the energy to get out of their social confinement. The energy to tell yourself that anything is possible.

This is the second year that I have had the chance to meet these young people from all over the world, from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, or the poorest countries. That I see them fighting like crazy to invent useful tools for their community.


The team of young Spanish winners of the jury prize for their collaborative project around sport and disability.

For example, last Thursday, during the annual awards ceremony for solidarity fablabs, in Marseille, I spoke with a 14-year-old, Lélo, from Albi. He was not very introverted at first, out of habit surely, then more and more locacious. He participated, along with others, in the invention and production of a prosthesis made with pieces of pipe, which allows disabled people to play badminton with able-bodied people. A super simple system that no one had thought of.

In fact, this misunderstood teenager has been drawing his inventions in his notebook for years, and trying to make them at home with electronic stuff from trash cans. Not the kind of thing that will help you pass the high school diploma. Especially if you don’t know how to talk about it.

The arrival of the Solidarity Fablab changed his life. It became his second home. I had the feeling that he had finally found a place where he was understood. How many are there, these teenagers like Lélo, who fail at school or in society because no one understands what drives them?


But that’s another story I would like to tell you. I would like to tell you about these 8 super nice, super humble Madagascan young people, who designed and produced a bionic hand for the disabled.

You will tell me: ok, but NASA has already done it.


Yes but, well.

Among these 8 young people, 6 knew nothing about electronics and were failing in school.

And then the project only cost 130 euros. 130 euros. A bionic hand.

It was conceived and produced in less than three months by these young Malagasy people of whom no one really knows where their island is.

The bionic hand did not come out of their brain. She was born in a Fablab. That is, one of those places invented by MIT, where you can create lots of innovative things with basic modern tools.

The Fablab solidaire Mamiratra, in Antanarivo, Madagascar, was created in 2015. In fact, for two years, almost nothing happened. The Orange foundation was also beginning to worry. But that time was needed. We had to take the time to set up this improbable place of innovation in an environment of extreme poverty.


This year, this fablab that everyone had almost forgotten, surprised everyone. And did not finish doing it.

Three months ago, the Madagascan Fablab decided to participate in the competition launched each year by Orange. This competition is called “I Make 4 My City”. Which basically means: “I manufacture for my city”. And the theme this year was sport.

“We brainstormed for a month to find an idea,” says Yves-Eric, 25, engineer, one of the initiators of the project.

The idea was to create a bionic hand to play pétanque when you have no arms, or no hand. Just that. The kind of stuff that NASA is working on with millions of dollars. And with the best engineers

You should know that pétanque is a bit like the national sport in Madagascar. The Malagasy have even become the best pétanqueurs in the world. I say this because I am from Marseille and, well, I understand the Malagasy people. It is a sport of dignity. When my grandfather played, he blocked the street.

Pétanque is the regaining of control of its time. Against the world. But let’s move on …

“Since it was impossible, we worked day and night.”

You should also know that a bionic hand is just a super sophisticated thing. And very expensive.

Not the kind of invention you would imagine in Madagascar either, let alone allowing disabled people to play pétanque. Except that the pétanque there is super important. Almost more than in Marseille.

When they finally agreed on their idea. They obviously only had two months left before the jury vote. Huge pressure! Imagine: apart from Andrianjafy, a 35-year-old computer scientist and Yves-Eric, nobody knew anything about robotics. It was just impossible.

Yves-Eric confirms with a smile: “It was impossible, yes”.

But he adds: “So since it was impossible, we worked day and night.”

9000 hours of work. To learn first, then to manufacture. The 6 young people of the team, including a girl, were 22 years old. All dropping out of school, they were trained in the joys of electronics on the job. No choice. There were two months left.


In two months, the prototype they produced is just amazing. At the beginning, it worked thanks to the batteries of Yves-Eric and Andrianjafy’s phones.

All other parts of this articulated hand were printed with a 3D printer. But it’s not just a prosthesis. It’s a smart hand. Who knows how to play pétanque.

If you are familiar with pétanque, you may know that shooting and pointing are not the same thing at all. The bionic hand therefore has two positions: pull or point. That we choose first on this wooden case.


Then, algorithms make it possible to determine the angle and the speed according to what one wants to do. So that the hand releases the ball at the right time.

Because the hand has sensors, which trigger the closing of the fingers around the ball when you put it in the hand. And it automatically releases when you launch it. Hence the importance of algorithms. There are obviously still adjustments to be made on this point.

But OK. All this in three months. With salvage stuff, 3D printed resin, and laser cut wood.

And 130 euros therefore. A bionic hand. Ask NASA how much it cost. Obviously, theirs is much more sophisticated. But there, it works. It allows you to play national sport. In Madagascar it is already huge.


On the left NASA, on the right the fablab of Madagascar.

In France, a bionic hand costs € 70,000. So in France, affording a bionic hand is already just impossible. So imagine in Madagascar.

Till today.

The Madagascar project won the audience award this year, awarded by Christine Albanel.

They won 15,000 euros.

And they know very well what they are going to do with it: “The goal is to allow this bionic hand to do other things than just play pétanque.”

And after? They’re going to sell it and get rich “No, no. We just want people to be able to make it themselves. ”



So I don’t know. You can continue to say that what the Orange Foundation does is “green washing”. What I see is young Malagasy who invent in 3 months a bionic hand for 130 euros with young people failing at school. And whose project is to allow everyone to make it.

What I see is that the solutions are also found in benevolence. Often among those who have nothing left. So much so that nothing is already huge.

We too often forget that we are really rich only in our ideas and our determination. And that creativity often stems from adversity.

In this world in total crisis, investing in solidarity is investing in the future. If the Orange foundation had not given this fablab time to set up, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story. To describe to you the pride but also the incredible strength in the eyes of this team. Allow time.

A few years ago, when I was going to India for the first time for a few days, economist Navi Radjou told me: “Go visit the villages, not the cities. You will find innovation in the villages ”. The energy is there.

So go visit Silicon Valley, yes. But also visit the villages of Africa, India and the islands. Go to the suburbs. The inventiveness is endless. And it has no borders. Whether you were born in a village in Africa, in the stairwell of your city, whether you come from a group of migrants or from a wealthy family in the 15th district. Whether you never reached the baccalaureate, or even school, or whether, on the contrary, your parents had the means to send you to internship at NASA, nobody knows who will be the hero in the end. The Orange foundation forges these forgotten heroes of the world. Yves-Eric and Andrianjafy are the heroes of the world of tomorrow.

benoitraphaelBenoit Raphael is an expert in digital and media innovation, blogger and entrepreneur.

He is at the origin of many successful media on the Internet: Le (Le Monde group), Le Plus de l’Obs, Le Lab d’Europe 1.

Benoît is also the co-founder of Trendsboard and robot media Flint.