For patients who suffer traumatic injury resulting in the loss of a limb, or for children born with conditions such as Amniotic band syndrome (which often results in children being born without one or more fingers), a new prosthetic limb has the potential to quite literally change their day-to-day lives. However, current prosthetic technology is highly complicated and expensive, and can cost up to $10,000 for a basic prosthetic finger. Imagine if instead of having to rely on complex and costly products and equipment, we could simply print out a full prosthetic device from the convenience of home.
Robohand is a mechanical 3D-printed hand that can be created using a MakerBot 3D printer. Richard Van As, a South Africa-based woodworker, originally conceived the idea in 2011 after losing four of his fingers in an accident. Van As soon began collaborating with Seattle-based prop designer Ivan Owen to create a design for inexpensive prosthetics that could work as effectively as real hands and fingers. Based on the duo’s concept, MakerBot donated a Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printer to each of the team,which sped up the process of creating working prototypes, while at the same time lowering production costs.
All told, the Robohand parts fabricated using the MakerBot 3D Printer add up to only $2.50 USD in material costs, with the total cost of a working prosthetic including unprintable materials coming in around $150. In addition to the significant savings, Van As realized how quickly this process enabled him to refine his designs based on the specific needs of individuals. After posting his own story, he received emails and Facebook messages from parents whose children had Amniotic band syndrome and wanted to explore the potential of the 3D printed designs. This technology is especially impactful for children given their high growth rates, which can require multiple protheses as they age. As a result of these conversations over social media, at least three children have been fitted for and received their new hands.
The project is entirely open source, which means that anyone with access to a 3D printer can download the design files for free and create their own Robohand. While this project is still being refined, 3D printed devices have vast potential for internal and external health. By increasing access and greatly reducing the cost of production, these devices will allow patients who struggle from lack of access to a prosthetic limb or other enabling technology the potential to live a normal and more productive life.
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