Rich Van As, a South African carpenter had a horrific accident, chopping off four fingers in a workshop related incident. On the other end of the scale was a South African boy named Liam, who was born without fingers on his right hand. Throw in Ian Owen, a mechanical special effects artist from Bellingham, Washington, and you get a 3D printed mechanical hand for about US$150 that has changed the boy’s life.
After Van As decided to find a way to get some kind of replacement for his severed hand, he searched the internet and found a YouTube video posted by Owen showing a Freddy Kruegerlike claw, contacted him and the two began conversing over a blog, Skype and email to produce the concept of a mechanical hand. The final act was meeting in Van As’ workshop in South Africa, where they built Van As’ finger replacements.
Van As and Owen then got the chance to take things a step further, by building the Robohand for Liam. The two began the project after Liam’s mother saw the story of Van As’ finger replacements online and contacted him via email. Liam suffers from Amniotic Band Syndrome, a congenital disorder caused by entrapment of fetal parts and include conditions like cleft lip, cleft palate, and clubfoot deformity.
Whereas Van As’s robotic hand is more centred on his index finger doing most of the work, Liam’s hand is virtually fully functional, and he is now able to do various tasks that he would never have been able to, like picking up small things or throwing a ball or holding a can of soda. Much like the mechanical claw of Owen, the hand is operated by Liam’s remaining fingers on his right hand. The hand contains 46 parts, 28 of which can be bought off the shelve from a DIY store (nuts and bolts, elastic, nylon cord) and 16 3D printed parts. Lastly there are two custom-ordered thermoplastic components to personalise the fit, taken from the open source plans.
Liam has been the talk of his school and is apparently learning all kind of tricks with his Robohand. Through the power of open source, 3D printing and a little bit of DIY a boy’s life has been changed.