Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Awesome 3d printed prosthetic hand!

Those who know me also know that one of my favourite gadgets is my 3d printer. It's old now and not up to the standards of todays models, but I still love and use it to build, invent, and fix things around the house.

When I got several years ago I kept trying to tell people how wonderful they were and what they could do for the world - Sometimes I got polite interest and other times I got blank indifference. People just could not think of anything they would do with one.

Today I saw one of the most awesome stories ever (on NPR).

Back in 2011 A carpenter in Johannesburg, South Africa lost several fingers on his right hand, he recovered and hooked up with a visual effects designer in the US (gotta love the internet right?) to build himself a prosthetic.

That alone is a fantastic story, but they got approached to build a hand for child born without fingers on one hand. They accept the job and built a prototype for the child out of machined metal. Then it hits them "Why not use 3d printing?"

Makerbot industries (one of the bigger players in home 3d printing) donated 2 printers to the project and our heros where able to design a hand that could be printed and assembled for about $150 in parts instead of the thousands that a normal prosthetic device would cost.

You can follow the project here or on the Robohand Facebook page.

At this point I was already overcome with awesome, but it keeps coming.

Because the design was released under creative commons, people could make their own improvements, and that what the guys at Makerbot did, they modded the design so it can be snapped together with no bolts, bringing the cost down to about $5.

I'll say it again:
I love my 3d printer and I love that people design things for themselves and then make the intellectual property open to benefit others.

This is not the first prosthetic designed to be made on a 3d printer - for children this type of thing is amazing because the designs can be resized every few months as the child grows without breaking the bank and the non printed parts can even be re-used. Also the printed plastic is much lighter than some of the metal alternatives, it wont last as long, but given the growth rates involved it doesn't need to.

For me a 3d printer is a way to fix blinds, kitchen fittings, dishwashers, and print up prototypes for ideas I have, but for some incredible people out there its a a tool they can use to make a massive difference in someones life.

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