It all started with an unfortunate incident at work which made Richard Van AS, a carpenter living in South Africa, to lose most of the fingers on his right hand.
After this nasty ordeal Van AS began doing meticulous research with the aim of finding a remedy that could get his hand fixed. During one of his many prosthetics researches online, he one day came across a Video on YouTube from Ivan Owen.
Owen was a Costume maker and Puppeteer residing in Washington and the video featured a puppet hand that he had created for his line of work. According to Owen, he had always been enthralled by the human hand and this was among the core reasons why he had created the puppet hand posted on YouTube.
Since Van AS hadn’t found any promising solution to his problem yet, this video by Owen gave him great hope that something could be done about his hand after all.
Not long after the two began working together trying to create a more usable and adaptable replacement of the human hand.
Considering that at the time Van AS was in South Africa and Owen in Washington, working together wasn’t exactly an easy thing. Their ‘partnership’ faced many challenges like dealing with the 10-hour time difference in addition to the fact that they both had day jobs.
However thanks to the internet they regularly swapped ideas, designs and comments through Skype and emails. Now close to a year later, their hard work and determination has clearly paid off because the rest of the world can access a cheap 3D printable robohand.
Solving Liam’s ABS Condition
Towards the end of their work, Owen felt compelled to fly to South Africa so that he could work closely with Van AS. Just about this time, a mother of a five year old child called Liam Dippenaar called Van AS to find out if they could help her son.
Liam was born with a rare condition medically referred to as ‘Amniotic Band Syndrome‘ (ABS). This condition causes fibrous bands to wrap themselves around a hand or sometimes even a foot in the uterus impeding circulation. The end result is a child being born without fully grown fingers or toes.
Nevertheless due to the extensive research the two had been doing over the years, this wasn’t anything too arduous for them. In a matter of days they managed to develop a crude mechanical hand that could enable Liam to make use of his right hand.
Liam and his mother were incredibly overjoyed by the mechanical hand but it left Owen wondering how great it would be if the device could be converted into printable parts. When he flew back home he therefore contacted MarkeBot, a company that mainly deals with making 3D printing machines, to find out if they could offer any help. Luckily for them MakerBot agreed to help them by donating a 3D printing machine to each of them.
What the Robohand Can Do
After receiving the donation from MakerBot, the two became unstoppable. Tasks that normally would take them 3-4 days for completion now became doable in less than 20 minutes. Moreover, the 3D printing machines made it possible for them to easily exchange their CAD files spending lesser time in perfecting their design.
Finally they were able to create a 3D printed version hand for Liam, which was a hundred-fold better than their initial crude hand. In just a short while of practice, Liam started to little by little use the hand more effectively in picking up objects like coins and eventually was even able to throw a ball with his right hand.
Liam, who naturally was a right-handed child had for five years of his life been forced to rely on his left hand for doing most chores. Now though, with the success of the robohand made by Owen and Van AS, the boy could put his right hand to use just as a normal child can.
Not to mention, there are some special benefits of the robohand which make it ideal for any person with a similar problem to that of Liam. First of all it is easily adaptable thus users can learn how to use it with little struggle and in a short duration of time.
Secondly, it is really not difficult to assemble plus it requires off-the-shelf parts that just about anyone can access without much hassle. Due to this reason, the parts are easily replaceable in case they accidentally break. Lastly, everyone with a 3D printer can conveniently assemble their own robohand at home.
Cost Saving Idea
The most intriguing thing regarding Van AS’ and Owen’s robohand is how cheap and affordable it is. Back at the time when Van AS was looking for a reasonable fix for his hand, he came across advanced tech prosthetics that costeded from $10,000 to $60,000. Needless to say, this is ridiculously expensive and way above the reach of many people.
For to the robohand they engineered, you will only require about $150 to have your own. The robohand uses no electronics or sensors and does not need any sophisticated parts so the overall cost involved is extremely frugal and the two are determined to make it even cheaper.
Open Source 3D Printing Project
Although the hand is now usable, it is still an ongoing open source project that Owen and his partner would like to improve on. With the target $50,000 funding that they hope to raise, they will have enough money for carrying out additional research.
Currently the design is free and easily accessible to everyone on the internet through their website and also on Thingiverse. Owen and Van AS have also expressed their intentions of establishing a nonprofit organization that will provide an excellent platform for them to educate people across the world on the assembly process of creating the robohand.
According to them, this will ensure that everybody who needs the robohand can readily access and use it. Read more about 3D Printed Robotics in this article we published a few weeks ago.
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