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The collaboration of two men has resulted in new and inexpensive prosthetic hands for children.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The same technological innovation that brought the world the 3D “printable” gun is making 3-D prosthetic hands for children born without fingers.
As remarkable is the story, as told Tuesday on National Public Radio, of how a carpenter in South Africa who lost two fingers in a table saw accident collaborated with a theatrical prop designer in Bellingham, Wash., to create the design. They then turned it into printable parts and posted it online as open source software, free to anyone who can make use of it.
That would require a 3D printer, of course. Richard Van As, the carpenter, and Ivan Owen, the prop designer, enlisted the help of a 3D equipment manufacturer, which supplied the two with free printers.
Their development time for various prototypes went from days to 20 minutes. The cost for Van As went from thousands of dollars per finger for traditional prosthetics to a few dollars for the plastic parts produced on the 3D printer, for a total cost of $150 — not counting the cost of a printer.
The MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop they used is priced at a little more than $2,000.
With it, though, the latest version of the Robohand, designed to snap together easily, will cost just $5 for materials — which gives just a hint of how promising this technology is.
The Robohand is not unique in its manufacture — 3D printers have fabricated other prosthetics. But the workshop development and open source availability pointed to an almost unlimited future that stretches as wide as the human imagination.
Investment researchers predict sales in the 3D print market, which were $777 million in 2012, will reach $8.4 billion in 2025 — mostly in the automotive, aerospace and medical industries.
Van As says he already has fitted more than 100 children with Robohands, at no charge. The gift of the two men’s ingenuity, though, will reach far beyond what he can do with his own hands.
“Amazing,” one blog commenter wrote of the invention, “what human innovation can do.” And human kindness.
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