Robohand provides blueprints for cheap mechanical hand

Four year-old Harmony Peterman, from Cedar Springs, Mich., is doing all the things her friends can do with the help of a robotic hand created with a 3D printer.

Harmony, who was born without a right hand will receive a fully functioning mechanical one designed by the non-profit organization the Robohand Project.

And the cost for this technological wonder bringing simple joys like brushing her own hair to a little girl's life? About $500 in raw materials.

Peterman's preschool teacher Betty Krzyszton found the design for the mechanical hand on the Internet earlier this year and contacted a couple of Michigan men who made the hand for her with a 3D printer.

"She wants fingers to paint nails, every little girl wants fingers," Harmony's mom, Melanie Peterman told WZZM in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The whole thing was possible because the designs for the mechanical hand are posted on the Internet by Robohand with no patents attached to them, meaning anyone who needs them can access them absolutely free of charge.

Robohand was founded in 2011 when South African carpenter Richard Van As lost four fingers on his right hand in an accident involving a circular saw.

A workable robotic hand was going to cost him tens of thousands of dollars he did not have so he started searching on the Internet and found Bellingham, Wash. resident Ivan Owen, who made a robotic hand for fun.

The two started collaborating and with the help of a 3D printer, created a working robotic hand for about $500.

"Richard never wanted to make money from other people's misery so the idea was never going to be patented," the organization's Facebook page states. "It is available 'open source' for anyone who needs a finger."

Which was exactly what Harmony needed. She had outgrown her prosthetic hand and her parents' insurance wouldn't pay for a new one.

Rather than an immovable rendition of a hand permanently carved into one position, Harmony will get a mechanical hand with movable, plastic fingers held together with cables and screws.

"It might be difficult to understand what suddenly loosing a hand would really mean," Robohand's Web site states, "Richard became an instant left hander. His left hand had to become a lot more clever very quickly. Can you brush your teeth with your non dominant hand… Can you use a can opener with only one hand… Would you be able to drive with your legs so you can change gears with only one hand?"

Funded completely through donations, Robohand has helped over 170 people to date.