According to the International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO), there are some 32 million amputees in the world today, around 80 percent (25 million) of whom live in developing countries where only five percent have been fitted with an artificial limb. It is estimated that 200,000 people lost a limb as a result of the 2010 Haiti earthquake alone. Two low-cost, printable prostheses highlight the potential impact 3D printing could have on the quality of life for millions as the technology becomes more accessible around the world.
When Ivan Owen from Washington State posted a video of his handmade mechanical hand prop on YouTube, little did he expect that he would be contacted by Richard Van As, a South African amputee and fellow craftsman living 10,000 miles away. Together, they designed and built a working prosthetic finger for Richard that we covered last October. After raising money to build more prototypes, the two went on to complete an entire prosthetic hand for a young boy named Liam who was born without fingers on his right hand, the design of which they are sharing online free of charge.
After only a few days, five-year-old Liam had already become proficient at grasping small objects with his "Robohand," which cost his family nothing. The mechanical fingers were made using a Replicator 2 3D printer and are attached to a brace that is worn over Liam's hand. The fingers are controlled via cables and return bungees, which, while relatively low-tech, provide a functional and comfortable to wear prosthesis. The design can also be scaled for other individuals using Makerware software.
"We are now expanding our efforts to share the knowledge we've obtained freely with everyone as well as building more devices for people in need at no cost," Owen says. "All of our designs are being released into the public domain and we want to build prosthetics at no cost to people who need them. To do this we are relying on donations and a key component of that is finding ways to share our story across the globe."
The design of Liam’s Robohand is available for free on Thingiverse with a public-domain license.
Student wins cash for his 3D printed hand
Last year, Eric Ronning, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, won US$10,000 for his own solution, which he calls the ReHand (aka Manu Print). Through the extension of the arm, a pulley system generates enough tensile force to flex the prosthetic fingers, allowing the wearer to grab objects. The ReHand has a materials cost of just US$20, where the average prosthetic costs around $600 dollars (to say nothing of expensive high-tech options like the bebionic3).
You can see Liam learning to use his Robohand in the video below.