According to the International Society of Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO), there are some 32 million amputees in the world today, around 80 percent of whom live in developing countries where only five percent have been fitted with an artificial limb. It is estimated that 200,000 people lost a limb as a result of the 2010 Haiti earthquake alone. Two low-cost, printable prostheses highlight the potential impact 3D printing could have on the quality of life for millions as the technology becomes more accessible around the world.

When Ivan Owen from Washington State posted a video of his handmade mechanical hand prop on YouTube, little did he expect that he would be contacted by Richard Van As, a South African amputee and fellow craftsman living 10,000 miles away. Together, they designed and built a working prosthetic finger for Richard that we covered last October. After raising money to build more prototypes, the two went on to complete an entire prosthetic hand for a young boy named Liam who was born without fingers on his right hand, the design of which they are sharing online free of charge.

After only a few days, five-year-old Liam had already become proficient at grasping small objects with his “Robohand,” which cost his family nothing. The mechanical fingers were made using a Replicator 2 3D printer and are attached to a brace that is worn over Liam’s hand. The fingers are controlled via cables and return bungees, which, while relatively low-tech, provide a functional and comfortable to wear prosthesis. The design can also be scaled for other individuals using Makerware software.

“We are now expanding our efforts to share the knowledge we’ve obtained freely with everyone as well as building more devices for people in need at no cost,” Owen says. “All of our designs are being released into the public domain and we want to build prosthetics at no cost to people who need them. To do this we are relying on donations and a key component of that is finding ways to share our story across the globe.”

The design of Liam’s Robohand is available for free on Thingiverse with a public-domain license.

More in the article. Bravo, geeks truly opening the door to inventive prosthesis design and comparatively affordable prices.



  1. Dallas says:

    I feel these 3 D printers are going to stoke great ideas.

    Power to the people! (Gosh I hope that doesn’t make me a hippie socialist)

  2. MikeN says:

    Yup, printing your own guns would really put a damper on gun controllers’ plans.

  3. ± says:

    More bullshit about 3D printers.
    Anyone who knows anything about material properties (e.g. density, brittleness, ductility, hardness, tensile strength, toughness, etc.) knows that such things are toys and will be for the foreseeable future.

    • pedro says:

      Indeed. For fast prototyping is the shiz, but not much else.

    • Dum, dum, dum, dum... says:

      Sounds like you’ve never printed a 100-round magazine for your AK47, or even an average deer rifle. You know, the things that all the knee jerk socialist reactionaries are trying to ban?

      I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to try and 3D print a working gun barrel or even chamber parts like you seem to be suggesting. But it’s not like they can’t buy raw materials at nearly any hardware store either!

      In fact, it’s possible to make your own RPG with model rocket engines and fence posts. The only question society should be asking is how motivated a deranged person is going to be in obtaining even a WMD?

      Banning guns is NOT the answer. Because you never know what someone will DO until they DO IT! Remember Oklahoma City? Care to guess how easy that would still be to do AGAIN?! The only reason you don’t see it more is because it’s simply not as CHEAP! But all any nut job needs is a reason to “pull the trigger” or push a button. Therefore, we don’t need more ENCOURAGEMENT pushing these nut jobs over the edge or showing them how to do it!

      … And we certainly don’t need more INTOLERANCE of sane people wanting to simply exercise their Constitutional rights either. (They’re probably the ones who are going to save your ass!)

      • ± says:

        Sounds like you proudly have printed your own AK47 magazine. Thanks for sharing that non sequitur.

        High cost, static use, low stress devices can be printed all day long on a 3D printer. But the point is repeated.

  4. deowll says:

    Good job. This kid is going to out grow a lot of these things before he is grown and making them more affordable is a good thing.

  5. Mr Diesel says:

    Until you have a 3D printer that can print out hammer forged parts in steel they are good for very little production parts.

    • Anonymous Coward says:

      There a re many types of 3D printers. For industrial purposes you can buy (expen$ive) printers that make metal parts using metal particles and either lasers or electron beams to fuse the particles together, among other types and materials.

      Probably still not hammer forged strong, but still a lot stronger than simple heated plastic.

  6. dusanmal says:

    Que in Progressive administration and anyone printing unauthorized limbs will be put in jail for 30+years. Because, how dare they solve their own problems, it is duty of Government to help.And where was Union labor in the process? Oh, my.

  7. All Your Money is Belong to US says:

    How long before the federal and state governments find a reason to ban 3-D printers or tax the hell out of anything you print?

    • pedro says:

      They said the same about cd burners. Now we have blu-ray burners and that hasn’t happened

  8. noname says:

    Cute, Edward scissor-hands’s long lost cousin!

  9. Printing says:

    The 3D printing stories that have come up lately like this one are incredible but even more amazing is that they will soon be cheap enough that everyone can own one. All you’ll have to do is buy the CAD/ CAM design from product manufacturers and you’ll be able to recreate their parts if something you’ve bought needs parts.

    There was a group of students who made an entire working bicycle out of the plastic but the only problem was that it wasn’t durable to withstand frequent use, which makes me think that the same could potentially happen with these prosthetic limbs.