Richard Van As thinks he's "just a South African guy with an idea," but it was an idea that made him a hero.
You see, Van As, not content to bemoan his fate, began an online collaboration with Ivan Owen to create his own prosthetic. The germ of that collaboration led to a design which can not only be customized, but can also be built by anyone using a low-cost RepRap-type 3D printer.
Van As and Owen called their invention RoboHand, and now Van As is both a media darling who fields hundreds of daily emails about his work and a man on a mission.
The RoboHand story took on a life of its own, thanks in part to Project Daniel, an initiative by inventor Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible Labs. Ebeling loaded up some MakerBot printers and took them to Sudan with the idea of teaching local Makers how to build prosthetics along the lines of Robohand for the thousands of children stricken by injuries as a result of the Sudanese civil war.
Now Van As has another idea.
He's built a 3D printer he calls the RoboBeast, and it's designed to be as reliable and easy to use as an anvil. According to Van As, the RoboBeast requires little in the way of mechanical adjustments and it can be moved while in operation. He says his invention can keep right on printing if you flip it upside down. Based largely on a RepRap-style open hardware design, Robohand is an open source printer built to carry on the work of the Daniel Project in the harshest environments.
Once he decided to take on the project, Van As sought out support from House4Hack, a makerspace run by volunteers renowned for their world-class 3D printing work. House4Hack was essentially the birthplace of the RepRap Morgan.
"Amputees contact us asking for help, and where we can, we send them a RoboHand," Van As says. "If they're able to work where they weren't before, they can consider a donation to help us keep going."
House4Hack and Van As prototyped the hardy printer in two-and-a-half months from design to testing, and Van As says four of his "bulletproof" printers are now being built. He adds that the final dimensions of the RoboBeast will include a build volume considerably larger than the 200x200x200mm of standard RepRap-style printers. Featuring off-the-shelf components like an Arduino motherboard with a standard RAMPS shield to drive the motors, Van As says the first RoboBeasts feature a touchscreen LCD panel and an SD card reader.
The RoboBeast gets its heft from strong, but lightweight, aluminum struts and a uses a custom-milled extruder. There are also plans to equip later versions of the machine with a battery capable of powering the device for up to five hours – and on a single charge.