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All That Was Needed to Make This Prosthetic Hand Was $20 and a 3D Printer

August 12, 2014
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All That Was Needed to Make This Prosthetic Hand Was $20 and a 3D Printer
SUNY New Paltz
It sounds like mad science, but this young boy can now point and grip things, thanks to his new hand.

If you pay attention to any tech news whatsoever, you’re aware that 3D printing is the latest fad spreading through the industry with labs across the country attempting to outdo each other with their printing projects.

However, SUNY New Paltz (State University of New York at New Paltz) has taken 3D printing to the next level, making it not just a science experiment — but a life-changing program. Last month, the school’s printing lab created a plastic hand for a six-year-old boy with no fingers, giving him a mobile hand for the first time in his life.

Joseph Gilbert was born with a congenital condition known as symbrachydactyly, which left him with a left hand devoid of fingers and one very foreshortened thumb. Although Joseph is a three-sport athlete — playing baseball, basketball and soccer — life with only one hand is no easy task.

So when Scott Paige, a friend of Joseph’s mother’s and a former worker in the prosthetics field, heard about a West Coast engineer who had uploaded a 3D printable model of prosthetic hand, he rushed to SUNY New Paltz.

After hearing from Paige, the school’s Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center set to work. Assistant director Katherine Wilson worked alongside Spencer Mass, a biology professor; Caryn Byllot, who works in biology and fine arts; and electrical engineering student Adam Carlock to design and build the hand.

While most prosthetics cost about $20,000 or $30,000, the 3D printed hand was made out of only about $20 worth of materials.

When Joseph came in to try his hand for the first time, he was joined by his mother, sister and the members of the team. He tried on the glove and for the first time was able to move his fingers.

How does the robohand work? Well, when wearing the glove, Joseph only has to flex his wrist which then allows the fingers on the hand to grip objects. The Center is continuing to make adjustments to the hand to ensure it is a perfect fit and will be able to make new ones to adjust it as he grows.

Dan Freedman is the Dean of the School of Science and Engineering at New Paltz and used to serve as the Center’s director. For him, the robohand is the perfect use of the technology. “Creating functional prosthetics for children is one of the best examples of how 3D design and printing can be used to build remarkable objects at a small fraction of the cost of standard fabrication methods,” says Freedman.

The creation of the robohand just goes to show that nothing is out of arm’s reach. All it takes is just a little elbow grease, some technology and childlike wonder to grasp what only sounds unattainable.

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