South African Richard Van As wasn't willing to let the loss of four fingers on his dominant hand in 2011 deter his life. The master carpenter immediately set out to make himself a prosthetic replacement. Two years later, with the support of MakerBot, Richard is doing a lot more than helping himself.
Van As has designed the Robohand, a prosthetic that can be fabricated almost entirely out of 3D printed parts. The customizable nature of 3D printing means that the Robohand can be reconfigured to fit any hand.
On top of this, its inexpensive production cost (around $150, according to MakerBot) makes it ideal for parents of children who are in need of prosthetics, but will quickly outgrow them.
One such child is five-year-old Liam.
Liam was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, a condition that causes children to be born without extremities, most commonly fingers and toes. Liam lacked the fingers on his right hand and his family could not afford a prosthetic that would be of no use in several months.
Using a donated Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer from MakerBot, Van As printed a hand for Liam in January. According to MakerBot, "Word spread, and other kids in the Johannesburg area like Liam with ABS have received their own Robohands, sized just for them. The files, including the assembly instructions, have been posted online at Thingiverse, and they have been downloaded over 3,800 times by people around the globe."
Get your Kleenex ready and check out the video below from MakerBot and Robohand:
But how did we get here? Well, it all started with Van As, lying in a hospital bed.
"When I cut my fingers off it was on a Saturday afternoon and I had gone to the hospital," Van As says in an interview discussing the accident. "From there, I decided that I was going to make a set of fingers for myself."
He began work on Robohand, in the hopes of regaining full functionality in his missing hand, something that is imperative for Van As' work in carpentry. He contacted Ivan Owen, a mechanical prop engineer in Washington State after seeing a video in which Owen showcased one of his mechanical puppet hands. The pair began collaborating on the project, sending designs back and forth. Owen would make design suggestions and Van As would attempt to build the prototype in his workshop. However, using conventional methods, each design cycle would take weeks or months at a time. When MakerBot caught wind of the project, they sent each of them a MakerBot Replicator 2. Mere days after the pair received their printers, Liam was fitted with a Robohand.
Yesterday was the two year anniversary of Richard Van As losing the fingers on his right hand. Where does it go from here? Richard has started an Indiegogo campaign to fund the cost of materials and a trip to present before Congress at the end of 2013. You can donate here.
Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, tweeted this morning, "This is why we do what we do at MakerBot. Our mission is to empower creative explorers to make the world better."
More news on the Robohand project can be found on the Robohand blog.