Richard van As gets injured while working on a construction project and looses four fingers. Once out of the hospital, he starts thinking about a smart way to pursue his manual work, without going bankrupt given the cost of prosthetics.
Thanks to the internet, he stumbles upon a video from Ivan Owen, about a mechanical hand. Getting in touch. Sharing ideas between South Africa and the United-States. Willing to imagine a simple, flexible, cost-effective mechanism to allow finger-amputated manual workers to continue… working.
Initially, our two men think of a mechanical finger to restore objects or tools stabilization and prehension. The device would be pulled on and attached to the wrist. Strings could be activated by next still-able muscles, thus activating the Robofinger.
They are also aware that small talk and chit-chat often turn into big projects : they launch their facebook page to share their idea, and the project updates. All things shared by encouraging friends and family on their own pages. And then shared by friends of friends, and friends’ families… and so on till it reaches Liam’s mother, whose kid was born without fingers on his hand.
So Liam takes the project from a “simple” stabilization help Robofinger to a toy truck holding and racing, Lego-building and catch-playing perfectly efficient whole hand. There goes our initial project, here come more and more ideas, and then 3D technology appears.
It appears with MakerBot, a 3D printer manufacturer. MakerBot headquarters happen to hear about our team of three. They are touched by their story, impressed by Richard and Ivan’s work, and willing to participate by donating two 3D printers to the Robohand project. And like that, two years after Richard’s accident, Liam, followed by many other kids, can now throw trucks at tremendous speed and use their restored human superpowers thanks to their Robohand. Robofinger followed shortly.
Robohand still carries its initial values of service and benevolence to this day : the Robohand open-source 3D-print files are available at no cost on Thingiverse. Once the files downloaded, a Robohand can be 3D-printed and assembled for about 150$, when a hand prosthetic can sometimes cost several thousand dollars. Open-source files means absolutely each and every technical specs are shared with the public, and the device is entirely adjustable according to special needs, tastes, or budgets. And needless to say, kids grow. Fast. Adults change paths. Passions occur. New skills are learned. Prosthetic hand(s) should follow the rhythm, too.
I am deeply touched by this project. A specific need, an idea, strong will, great know-how, and some humility despite a concrete benefit to hundreds, which people like me – who pull on their socks and chop vegetables without even thinking – can’t even start to measure.