3D printers help build robotic hand for young boy

Through some long-distance collaboration, two men develop a working prosthetic hand for a young boy

ROBOHAND. Liam grabs a bottle with his new prosthesis. Screen shot from YouTube video.

MANILA, Philippines – Thanks to two enterprising men, open-source software, and a pair of 3D printers, two men miles apart from each other were able to develop a robotic hand for a 5-year old boy.

Not only have they developed a robotic prosthetic for the young boy, named Liam; they’ve also put their design documents in the public domain to allow other people to make less expensive prosthetics using 3D printers.

The story goes that Ivan Owen in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As in South Africa were working together to develop a prosthetic hand for Van As, who lost most of 4 fingers in a woodworking accident.

Liam’s mother Yolandi, who is also in South Africa, found out about their work through their blog, and contacted them asking for help getting a robotic hand for her son as well. Liam was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which causes the amputation of digits before birth.

Owen told Ars Technica how the whole plan went after Yolandi contacted Van As. “When he was contacted by Yolandi, we decided we would have a go at trying to build an initial prototype for Liam in the space of time that I was there as well.”

He added, “We only had 3 and a half days, so, you know, it was an arduous task, but it was something we felt we should definitely do while we were in the same place at the same time.”

The result was a working prototype that still needed some revisions. Desktop 3D printer manufacturers Makerbot decided to help the two by donating a pair of 3D printers to the cause, which allowed them to keep improving their work.

The final product was sent to Liam, with the end result being that Liam now has the ability to pick up objects with his robotic hand, even being able to capture a coin using the new prosthesis. As Liam grows up, the prosthesis can also be scaled up and reprinted for him as necessary.

While the project was a triumph, it doesn’t end there. The designs have been made public domain on Makerbot’s Thingiverse site, allowing anyone with sufficient know-how and a 3D printer to work with or improve on the existing designs developed by the two. – Rappler.com


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