Viral Video Leads to 3D Printed “Robohand” Prosthesis

By: | February 5th, 2013

An amateur mechanical engineer, Ivan Owen, built a huge mechanical hand and posted a video of it on Youtube where it went viral. Richard Van As, of South Africa, who lost the fingers of his right hand in a woodworking accident saw the video and believed the technology, with some modifications, might work for people like him.

The two started to develop a prosthetic hand and after a couple months of back and forth including Internet meetings and snail mailing prototypes to each other, they were making significant progress .  When 3-D printer company MakerBot heard of the project they donated two brand-new Replicator printers to the team.  This helped speed up development as snail mailing was no longer necessary and new design files could be emailed, downloaded , and printed within minutes.

A short time later, Owen traveled to Johannesburg to continue their project and soon learned of a five-year-old South African boy named Liam who was born without fingers on his right hand. Liam was recruited to the project and within three months he was using his new hand playing with toys, picking up coins, brushing his teeth and more and it only took him a couple days to learn how to use it.

Through working with Liam and the 3-D printers Owen and Van As were able to quickly make changes to the design while Owen would test it.

The Robohand is expected to cost about $150, much less than prosthetics that have electronics and sensors.  Robohand uses a system whereby the angle of the wrist tightens or loosens the tension on cables controlling the fingers. This type of cable system has been used in prosthetics for decades but new materials are making it lighter than ever before.

The creators of the Robohand are going to post the design for free on Thingiverse which is a website for sharing 3-D printed object designs.  They believe the design will be used all over the world but especially in countries where the medical infrastructure does not quickly provide prostheses; there is a real need for this product.

More information can be found at Coming Up Short Handed, a site for information on the project and its progress as well as fundraising links.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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