When Richard Van As lost the fingers of his right hand in a woodworking accident he could have given up. What he did instead was something wondeful and brilliant that has changed the lives of many others. He decided to build himself new fingers.
Van As recalls that the decision was made up in his mind even before he had left the operating room, but he would need help to complete his vision. The man he chose to be his collaborator was Ivan Owen, a prop designer living in Seattle. Owen had experience in creating mechanical puppetry — including hands — for the stage, a skill perfectly suited to aid Van As in his quest.
The only problem in choosing Owen as his collaborator was that Owen's Seattle workspace was a bit far from Van As' home in South Africa. Progress was slow at first. Video conferencing and cloud computing helped, but prototyping a device for someone a world away can be laborious work. Not to mention expensive.
That's when MakerBot joined the cause. The New York-based 3D printing company donated two of its new MakerBot 2 3D printers to the project. One for Van As in South Africa, and the other for Owen. After that, prototyping and finishing Van As' hand went swimmingly. In fact, it went so well that Van As began to see just how simple it would be to start creating prosthetic hands for others who needed them — hands that would be custom-made to fit each individual.
Van As immediately knew 3D-printed hands could help Individuals such as children born without fingers due to something called Amniotic Band Syndrome (something that affects one in every 1,200 children). The low cost of a 3D printed hand (around $150) actually allows for children to outgrow their Robohand and simply have another printed.One child, a boy named Liam, has already done so once. He is one of a total of four children already equipped with a Robohand, a number that Van As and Owen would very much like to see go up.
To that end, they have posted their designs on MakerBot's Thingiverse website for anyone who needs them. If you don't have need of a Robohand yourself and would still like to lend a hand (you're welcome) you can support the Robohand Indiegogo campaign. Proceeds will help obtain materials and cover the labor costs of building more hands. To see Liam and his Robohand in action, along with two other boys — Dyland and Waldo —, check out the gallery below. And to watch the full length Robohand documentary, visit MakerBot here.