Richard Van As, a South African carpenter, lost four fingers 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.”
After seeing a video posted online, he decided to build his own hand and 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, 3D printing and thermoplastic. It uses the rotation of a joint to enable five plastic digits to grasp and it 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 3D printer.
Van As would like to provide 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.
“Ivan was a gift to me,” Van As said.
Makerbot donated the team two 3d printers, one for Johannesburg and the other for Seattle.
“What was taking us two weeks to put together took us 20 hours,” Van As said. He opened drawers full of bolts, screws and leftover hinges from the beginning phases of the project. “Now it looks easy.”
They made the Robohand ab Open Source design available online to spread the it as widely as possible and Van As now accepts donations to make hands for people around the world.
“I don’t want to make money out of misery,” Van As said, dismissing the idea that he could make a profit on the mechanical hand.
At $500, a Robohand is significantly cheaper than the typical $10,000 to $15,000 cost for a conventional below-the-elbow prosthesis, said Eric Neufeld a U.S.-based certified Prosthetist and Orthotist and the director of Range of Motion Project, known as ROMP, which provides prosthetic limbs to those who cannot afford them around the world.
“There are very few options just for digits, so that is another problem they are addressing,” Neufeld said.
“It’s a pioneering thing they are doing. It gets people thinking about what other components can be made in the same way,” he said, adding that he will watch Robohands closely for possible use by his organization.
Associated Press reported that twelve-year old Dylan Laas got his Robohand in March. His mother, Jacqui, said her son, who does not have a right hand because of Amniotic Band Syndrome, is approaching activities with new interest thanks to the gadget.
“It looks cool. It makes me look like Darth Vader … It’s fun to use,” he said, adding that he can’t wait to go swimming with it.