Vital Signs is a monthly program bringing viewers health stories from around the world.
Robohand makes cheap artificial hands and arms using 3-D printers
Founder Richard van As lost four fingers in a carpentry accident
Robohand's designs are open source so others can download and print them
“I was in a position to see exactly what happens in the human hand. I got the basics of what it’s all about and thought yeah, I’ll make my own.”
Richard van As is recalling the moment in May 2011 when he sat in a Johannesburg hospital waiting to hear if his fingers could be stitched back on. Just an hour earlier, he had been in his carpentry workshop sawing wood when the saw slipped and ripped diagonally through the four fingers on his right hand. “It all happened too quickly to know what actually happened,” he remembers.
Rather than fear the outcome, or dwell on the repercussions of losing his fingers, he was already thinking of ways to fix the problem, like a true carpenter.
After days of scouring the Internet he couldn’t find anywhere to buy a functional prosthetic finger and he was astonished at the cost of prosthetic hands and limbs which began in the tens of thousands of dollars. But his online surfing paid off as it brought him to an amateur video posted by a mechanical effects artist in Washington State, by the name of Ivan Owen.
Together, the pair developed a mechanical finger for van As, but their partnership has also gone on to benefit countless hand and arm amputees around the globe, through the birth of the company “Robohand.”
Officially launched in January 2012, Robohand creates affordable mechanical prosthetics through the use of 3D printers. Not only that, but it has made its designs open source, so that anyone with access to such printers can print out fingers, hands and now arms as well.
Using the process of additive manufacture, the specialized printers use the thermoplastic material Polylactide (PLA) to print body parts such as knuckles and joints, which when combined with stainless steel and aluminum produce a personalized prosthetic which customers can assemble and fit themselves courtesy of a free open-source manual available to them.