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Two hobbyists create a DiY prosthetic hand for a 5-year-old boy in South Africa

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A special effects artist and woodworker living hundreds of miles apart have pieced together a prosthetic hand for a 5-year-old South African boy who was born without fingers on his right hand. Using a 3D printer, along with bits of cable, bungee cord returns, and rubber thimbles, the two men collaborated over the internet to make it happen. And not only have they changed the life of young Liam, they now hope to do the same for others looking for low-cost prosthetic alternatives. To that end, they have made their assistive technology open source and launched a fund raising campaign.

The project came together when Liam's mom stumbled upon a blog being run by Ivan Owen and Rich Van As.

Owen is a part-time mechanical special effects artist in Washington, and Van As is a woodworker from South Africa. The two had been working on a "Robohand," but they hadn't considered the wider implications of their work (Van As lost his fingers in a woodworking accident a few years ago). But after talking to Liam's mom, they put a custom hand together — a device that now allows Liam to pick up coins (like a boss!), push a shopping cart, and throw a basketball.


Afterward, they made the Robohand available on Thingiverse and set up a fundraising page. Since making it available, they have received requests for help in creating the devices, and for people looking to use the technology.


And indeed, the open source nature of the Robohand has already resulted in several improvements. Over the course of the last several days, the device has been upgraded to include an improvement to the cable guide for the thumb mount, as well as the addition of a bungee anchor and extra mounting holes on the thumb mount. They also made some adjustments to the hand's aesthetics.

Normally, a prosthetic hand would run upwards of $10,000, if not substantially more. The Robohand, on the other hand (ahem), only costs a few hundred dollars.

Images: ComingUpShortHanded.