Ellen McGirt | The Design Observer Twenty

Dr. Dima Gazda

Bringing elegant design, inclusion, and responsible AI to the field of prosthetics.

Dr. Dima Gazda

The Design Observer Twenty | Sponsored by IDEO

The Design Observer Twenty is our curated selection of twenty remarkable people, projects, and big ideas solving an urgent social need.

“This is about what the future of humanity will look like,” says Dr. Dima Gazda, the co-founder and CEO of Esper Bionics, who created the company’s award-winning prosthetic hand. Augmented, yes, but also human.

The Esper Hand is a slim, FDA-registered device that uses machine learning to become familiar with the wearer’s movements over time, which helps the hand behave in more valuable and natural ways. It’s lighter, smaller, and three times faster than other prostheses on the market. It’s also modular, giving the wearer more control over its fit and function.

Its unique, minimalist beauty is by design.

“We live in contact with other people and that is just as important as functionality,” Gazda says. “Most companies don’t get that yet. They are too focused on the engineering.” Create a fleet of Terminator-like limbs, and you’ll delight engineers and moviemakers. But create an elegant solution that can accommodate real people — including smaller and female bodies — and human augmentation gets a higher calling, he says. “The biggest help after injury is to stay social.” Gazda and the team have learned from years of research with amputees and people with limb differences that many want to do simple things, like cook a meal or raise a glass at their child’s wedding, without drawing attention to themselves. “This will help you get back to your life.”

Esper Bionics has seen a meteoric rise in a narrow field. The company began four years ago with a team of five; they now have a team of 31 drawn from some of the biggest companies in STEM. In addition to tooling up their manufacturing capacity, they spend a lot of time thinking about how future versions of AI-enabled wearable devices can help people monitor their physical bodies. “This is the market we plan to disrupt,” Gazda says. But the Ukrainian-born doctor and engineer — the company has offices in Brooklyn, Berlin, and Kiev — also spends a lot of time with soldiers in the U.S. and Ukraine. Sometimes, these soldiers are returning to the front line after being fitted for their hands. “We don’t recommend this, but we can’t control it,” Gazda says. “They just come back and tell us their stories.”

As the company has grown, a “diaspora” of human-augmentation engineers is forming, with strong opinions about data collection. Gazda believes AI should not be the domain of one company — like Google or Facebook — but achieved through community ethics and responsible safety standards around data privacy, safety, and medical care.

It’s about avoiding stroke, heart attacks, and illness, and maximizing health.“We care about each other, we care not to get sick,” he says. “Technology can help us have more life in our lifetime.”

Essay by Ellen McGirt.

Posted in: The Design Observer Twenty

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