3D-printed prostheses give hope to amputees in war-torn Sudan


January 20, 2014

A team of experts from various fields were able to develop a prosthetic arm that could be made cheaply using 3D printing technology

A team of experts from various fields were able to develop a prosthetic arm that could be made cheaply using 3D printing technology

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While 3D printing technology has emerged to serve a wide variety of purposes, few appear more worthwhile than that of US-based company Not Impossible Labs. Through its Daniel Project, the company has not only provided 3D-printed prosthetic arms for amputees in war-torn Sudan, but empowered the local community to continue the initiative in its absence.

The origins of the project date back to 2012 when Daniel Omar, then aged 14, was attending to his family's cows when a bomb was dropped on nearby rebel forces. Seeking cover behind a tree, Daniel was able to to save his life, but not his hands, losing both to the blast which ultimately left him with two stumps for upper arms.

After hearing Daniel's story, Not Impossible co-founder and CEO Mick Ebeling says he was compelled to act. Feeling invigorated following the success of his EyeWriter project, which enables artists with paralysis to draw using their eyes, Ebeling crowd-sourced a team of innovative experts from various fields to tackle his next venture.

Comprising the creator of the RoboHand Richard Van As, an Australian MIT neuroscientist, and the owner of a Californian 3D printing company, the team set to work in designing an arm that was effective and relatively cheap compared to traditional prostheses. The end result was a 3D-printed prosthetic hand that enabled Daniel to feed himself for the first time in two years (he ate three brownies).

In keeping with Not Impossible's slogan, "Help One. Help Many," Ebeling and his team set up a workshop in a local hospital and trained local clinicians to print and build the prosthetic arms themselves. "Teaching a man to fish" appears to have been an effective approach, as the company says that within one and a half weeks of departing Sudan, the local workshop had already created four prosthetic arms.

Not Impossible says that the technology behind the 3D-printed arms is and will remain open-source, in the hope that it will inspire similar projects and bring assistance to what it estimates are 50,000 amputees in South Sudan, as well as others around the world.

"We're hopeful that other children and adults in other regions of Africa, as well as other continents around the globe, will utilize the power of this new technology for similar beginnings," said Ebeling. "We believe Daniel's story will ignite a global campaign. The sharing of the prostheses' specifications, which Not Impossible will provide free and open-source, will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet, to use technology for its best purpose: restoring humanity."

Ebeling talks about the project in the video below.

Source: Not Impossible

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

Although places like S. Sudan do need this type of help, it is not just in third world countries that this inexpensive arm (or leg later on, maybe?) is needed.

There are many people even in the first world that cannot afford the $50,000 or more that present artificial arms cost.

In another article I saw on this project they said it cost $100. Even if it cost $1000 in an expensive country that would be affordable for people who need them.

An arm that does something but looks funky is more use to a disabled person than an arm that looks great but does nothing.

Who out there will fund bringing inexpensive arms to the first world?


We need more people like Mick Ebeling in this world. It's nice to see that helping the poor and needy was far more important to him than making a profit at their expense.

Far to much of the medical products industry is purely focused on making massive profits.


The first "under $100" articulated robot hand is due for release in May 2014. Contrary to popular belief, it will NOT be 3D printed, rather, using traditional innovative design and high volume production methods. For the majority of the 25,000 Americans per year that have arm amputations due to cardio-vascular disease, such as diabetes, but do not have access to sufficient health insurance. Designed and manufactured in Australia.

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