Robohand: how cheap 3D printers built a replacement hand for a five-year old boy

Ars Technica » Scientific Method 2013-02-01

Liam's Robohand, the product of a collaboration between Ivan Owen in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As in South Africa—and produced on a MakerBot 3D printer.

Not too long ago, Liam had no fingers on his right hand. The South African 5-year old was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which causes amputation of digits before birth. But since November, Liam has been using a series of prosthetic hands designed by two men living on opposite sides of the planet, using open source software and 3D-printing technology.

Now, those two men—Ivan Owen in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As in South Africa—have published the design for Robohand, the mechanical hand prosthesis, on MakerBot's Thingiverse site as a digital file that can be used to produce its parts in a 3D printer. They've intentionally made the design public domain, in the hopes that others around the world who don't have access to expensive commercial prosthetics (which can cost tens of thousands of dollars) can benefit from it.

Liam, on his third day with his completed Robohand.

The project began with a mechanical hand Owen made for a science fiction convention in 2011. He works for a school supply business during the day, but also works from home creating special effects. When a video of Owen demonstrating the oversized hand went viral, it got the attention of Van As, who had lost most of four fingers on his right hand in a woodworking accident. Van As had been told that prosthetic fingers, such as the X-Finger, would cost him at least $10,000 per finger replaced, so he set about in his workshop trying to design his own.

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