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Open-Sourced 'RoboHand' 3D Printed For Five-Year Old Boy

Creators make the design public domain to help people who can't afford prostheses.

Not too long ago, Liam had no fingers on his right hand. The South African 5-year old was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which causes amputation of digits before birth. But since November, Liam has been using a series of prosthetic hands designed by two men living on opposite sides of the planet, using open source software and 3D-printing technology.

Now, those two men—Ivan Owen in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As in South Africa—have published the design for Robohand, the mechanical hand prosthesis, on MakerBot's Thingiverse site as a digital file that can be used to produce its parts in a 3D printer. They've intentionally made the design public domain, in the hopes that others around the world who don't have access to expensive commercial prosthetics (which can cost tens of thousands of dollars) can benefit from it.

From the beginning, the project was intended to be open-sourced, Owen said. "Rich and I have been very happy to have the opportunity to do this," he explained. "Not only did we find a design partner, but we’re kindred spirits in that we're both frustrated by the fact that there are some things that just shouldn’t be commercialized—they're needs instead of wants—that are." The pair plan to continue to develop the design as a mechanical prosthesis in the long term because it is low-tech and could be more easily produced and supported around the world. "But if there is somebody who can utilize the design for a robotic prosthesis, we'd be excited to work with them," Owen added.

Owen also hopes to get his hand into the hands of the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs to help veterans who have lost digits or hands. "I live not too far from Seattle, and [we] have Joint Base Lewis McChord near us," he said. "I would like to talk to on-base occupational therapists. If they have the funding to get a 3D printer, they could work with this—and the cost to produce them for each veteran is brought down because they don't have to pay royalties."

Details & links at site.

Miami, FL


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