Liam is a five-year-old boy from South Africa. He was born without fingers on his right hand. Not too long ago, Liam would have needed an expensive prosthesis device that can run tens of thousands of dollars. Today, however, Liam had a new hand made for him inexpensively, thanks to donated 3D printers from Makerbot and two motivated men from opposite ends of the globe.
Richard Van As, a South African man, lost four fingers in an accident, and met Ivan Owen from Bellingham, Washington, at a convention. Owen had a prop hand he’d made, and Van As asked Owen for advice on how to build his own prosthetic hand. The two men began to collaborate remotely across the internet on a project that eventually designed and produced Liam’s Robohand. Better yet? The design for the hand is freely downloadable from ThingiVerse, a repository of 3D printable items that anyone around the world can access.
The folks at Makerbot heard about the project, and donated two 3D printers, a new technology that uses various plastic polymers to print actual objects from designs like the ones at Thingiverse. Liam received his new hand last month, and has been using it to pick up objects that he was previously unable to grip. What a promising piece of technology!
Owen and Van As made the design public domain so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can reproduce the hand, and are also raising funds to help other kids who need a real prosthetic hand but don’t have the funds for one, or access to 3D printers. Hopefully, as this technology becomes a bit more ubiquitous, we’ll see all sorts of new applications to help kids (and adults) with these kinds of needs.