Robohand Uses 3-D Printing To Replace Lost Fingers

Richard Van As, a South African carpenter, lost four fingers from his right hand to a circular saw two years ago. He was unable to afford the tens of thousands of dollars to get a myoelectric hand, which detects a muscle's electric impulses to activate an artificial limb.

"After my accident, I was in pain, but wouldn't take painkillers. I barely slept, and the more pain I had the more ideas I got," he told The Associated Press. "Sometimes you have to chop fingers off to start thinking."

He decided to build his own hand. After seeing a video posted online of a mechanical hand made for a costume in a theater production, he reached out to its designer, Ivan Owen, in Seattle.

Enter Robohand -- a device that Van As and Owen invented that is made from cables, screws, 3-D printing and thermoplastic. It uses the rotation of a joint to enable five plastic digits to grasp. The device looks like a robot's hand in a science fiction movie, costs about $500 to make and can be reproduced using plans on the Internet and a 3-D printer.

Van As is now on a mission to spread the mechanism to people without fingers or hands all over the world. The two gadget-lovers collaborated on developing a design for the device for a wide range of ages that could be used to grab objects, unlike most existing arm prostheses. Van As has fitted Robohands on about 170 people, from toddlers to adults, thanks to donations.

At first they used a milling machine, making Van As a metal robotic forefinger digit that helps him work in carpentry to this day. That's when they perfected the shape for the robotic fingers.

"Ivan was a gift to me," Van As said.

Then they turned to 3-D printing which creates the device...

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