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Long-distance collaborators create inexpensive prosthetic finger


October 30, 2012

The prototype prosthetic finger

The prototype prosthetic finger

Image Gallery (4 images)

When South African craftsman Richard Van As lost most of the fingers from his right hand in an industrial accident, he decided to try and create a prosthetic finger to regain some of his lost mobility. In order to bring this about, Richard recruited the help of Washington State native Ivan Owen, after being impressed with the latter's mechanical hand prop which he had posted on YouTube. The result could be a boon to amputees everywhere.

Despite living over 10,000 miles apart, Richard and Ivan set to work exchanging emails, photos and drawings while conversing via Skype, in order to construct a working prototype. The arduous process of actually manufacturing the prosthetic finger began with Richard creating a plastic replica of his hand for Ivan’s reference, ensuring that both were working from the same page, and from here the design was refined at length.

The current prototype is held in place by a hand mount, which acts like a glove and is formed to suit the amputee's hand. The prosthetic finger itself consists of a rigid lever arm, pulleys, and finger tip with grip pad. It’s an approach which is much less high-tech in comparison to some other prosthetic fingers, like that made by Touch Bionics – however, it’s also far more affordable, and significantly increases Richard's ability to pick up objects.

Richard and Ivan are currently attempting to raise funds to help advance the prototype, and have just under two weeks left to reach their US$5,000 target. The money raised so far has already paid for a milling machine, while future donations will go toward the cost of materials, tools and travel.

Rather than patent their work, Richard and Ivan have decided to give the design away for free in order to help other people benefit from their research, and the eventual goal is to offer the prosthetic finger at no cost if funding can pay for all the relevant materials. The pair have also posited the idea of offering it to others as an inexpensive self-assembly kit.

The following video features both Richard and Ivan demonstrating and discussing their prosthetic finger prototype.

Source: Coming Up Short Handed

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

I am always dubious about this stuff. A very emotional video that asks for money for a good cause and a very professional website makes me wonder if they already spent more money on marketing than what they say they are trying to raise. They even posted on Gizmag... In the end it's 'please give us money, we swear we will use it for a good cause...'. I would gladly pre-order, if there is a real legal commitment from them...


Cachurro -

Ivan here (one of the designers). You raise valid concerns and I'd like to provide you with more information which answers them. We have actually spent $0 on advertizing for this. As a special effects artist, I am friends with & know many people in the independent film community where I live. One of my friends helped us out by making the video. As far as the website is concerned, it's a free Wordpress blogsite which my wife has been kind enough to put together for us. In her professional life, she is a photographer and graphic designer with over a decade of experience: http://jenmartinstudios.blogspot.com/ So you are correct, it's a professional quality website but she donated her time to create it :) The various sites that have featured us (Gizmag, Fastcompany Etc.) reached out to us and offered to write articles to spread the word. Again, this cost $0 and we are extremely grateful to them for their help.

For now we do just have to ask people to trust us, be we are backing up that request by sharing updates that show where the money is going. On our blog we've posted about the milling machine we were able to obtain via donations to the project and we'll continue to share progress as we go. As far as a legal commitment to give away our rights to the design, we've already done that with our first prototype: http://chaincrafts.blogspot.com/2012/08/finger-prosthesis-design-details.html . By publishing the details in a public location, it now falls under the legal category of "Prior Art" and is therefore in the public domain. We will continue this process with any/all viable designs we create in this process.

If this were a money-making venture... then Rich and went about it in entirely the wrong way, seeing as both he and I have already spent a fair amount out of our own pockets on the designs we've created so far. To then release the designs and give away the rights to them, we hope, helps to communicate our true intentions and goals.

Thank you :)

Ivan Owen

Reminds me of an idea for a PVC pipe knee joint I had awhile back. Not sure how durable it would be, but you could put one together for just a few bucks.

Larry Hooten

Remarkable work.

I'm very touched by the fact there is no desire to patent this work, the whole thing strikes me as some remarkable people doing something important and focused on the end result rather than the usual fame and fortune.

Kudos from me.


Where can I get low temperature thermoplastic sheet at a low price? It's very neat stuff, softens in boiling water.

It's used a lot in making custom fit splints. Easily bonds to itself when hot and pressed together.

It'd be useful for many other things such as custom fit back shells for homebrew steadicam arm mounting - if it weren't so bloody expensive.

Gregg Eshelman

I am very interested in what you two come up with. my injury isn't as in depth as Richard's, however my loss is just as equal. Three years into my piano performance major in college i was in an industrial accident, resulting in the loss of half of my left middle finger and reconstruction of my pointer finger. My greatest dream is to return to playing the piano, however my middle finger is way too short to even reach the keys. I've been on the prosthetic search for a year and a half now, and nothing as satisfied me in regards to the range of motion and price. Sure there are prosthetics out there that could fit my needs very easily, only if I've got the bank account to back it up....which sadly i do not as a recent college graduate. I was wondering when this amazing new prosthetic or new prototype would be ready for testing, i am very anxious and excited about your work. If I can help in anyway please, please let me know :) You've been an answer to my prayers.

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