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Medicine Technology

Carpenter Who Cut Off His Fingers Makes "Robohand" With 3-D Printer 91

Posted by samzenpus
from the finger-jam dept.
mpicpp (3454017) writes with the ultimate DIY story about a carpenter in South Africa who lost his fingers in an accident, and now runs a company that makes mechanical prosthetics with 3D printing technology. "'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....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.'"
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Carpenter Who Cut Off His Fingers Makes "Robohand" With 3-D Printer

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  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Monday April 14, 2014 @03:49PM (#46750835) Journal

    I know a guy who did something similar but they saved the fingers. He ripped through 3 fingers and split the thumb halfway up. The scars lined up rather wincingly, I mean convincingly.

    Anyway, the best joke in Family Guy's Blue Harvest is removed in reruns.

    At the end, Luke, sitting with robot finishing his new robot hand: Can I try it out?

    Robot doctor: I'd try it on a hot dog first.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Blue Harvest" was their parody of "A New Hope". You're thinking of their parody of "The Empire Strikes Back."

  • You mean you can print in 3D now? Why have you guys kept that so quiet for so long?
    • You mean you can print in 3D now? Why have you guys kept that so quiet for so long?

      Yeah! It's really cool. You print one image in red ink, and one in cyan. Then when you look at the result with 3D glasses (the colored lens ones, not the polarized filter ones)... and poof! 3D!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My understanding -- which, granted comes from the Internet -- is that a good deal of the cost of these things is the FDA certification, or local-country equivalents. Testing and such is expensive. Or that is at least the popular excuse of companies that make prosthetics.

    • a good deal of the cost of these things is the FDA certification

      If there's no surgery, it's just a object - a tool, an item of functional clothing, more-or-less. I'd be surprised and annoyed to find out that any kind of certification was legally required for something like this.

      Or that is at least the popular excuse of companies that make prosthetics.

      There's also the fact that they actually are traditionally expensive to make and fit.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        If it is a medical device, then yes it need approval. That said, if he just released the plans, no one is going to stop you. Insurance may try to use it as an excuse to wiggle out of anything else.

      • by vux984 (928602)

        If there's no surgery, it's just a object - a tool, an item of functional clothing, more-or-less

        Not entirely true. Contact lenses for example are all regulated. As is pretty much anything that performs any sort of medical exam or diagnostic that a medical practitioner relies on to make a diagnosis or treatment decision.

        There's also the fact that they actually are traditionally expensive to make and fit.

        They are also generally each one manufactured to order.

        They also tend to be loaded with patents and royalt

        • by jopsen (885607)

          The doctor may then take the now very high cost of the the item and build in his time to fit, assess, and follow up with you into the price of the item inflating it even higher.

          True, there are hidden costs which you don't see if you 3D print your own hand :)

          But, it not unreasonable to assume that there is no (or very little) competition on price in the medical industry. Especially, in the US.
          Where there is profit to be made, patents to control and patients with insurances.


          On topic, if I need a robohand, I would certainly prefer an open source finger; I mean if ever a security audit would be worth the effort... this would certainly be a case
          - also it's would be ironic to wr

          • by Zynder (2773551)
            They aren't even hiding the costs anymore. I got a bill today for $201 for a cloth arm sling! That thing cost a Chinese dude less than a dollar to make. What a racket!
            • by jopsen (885607)
              "Hidden cost" I was talking is the cost to the producers that you don't see.. Such as unpacking your $201 arm sling :)

              "The profit" is what you claim they don't hide anymore... And yeah, you're probably right.
              $ 201 for an arm sling sounds like a decent business model.

              Is it time to nationalize healthcare completely, just kidding. That's not realistic, but IMO, you need to remove or minimize the profit aspect of healthcare. On an individual basis we're all willing to pay whatever we're asked, especially,
              • by Zynder (2773551)
                No need to kid. I believe it is time to nationalize the healthcare system, no matter how realistic that may or may not be. I think we could just shovel money from the back of a pickup truck burning whale oil and still come out cheaper.
                • by laird (2705)

                  Why is national healthcare "unrealistic"? It works for plenty of countries. Heck, when we set up the new government in Iraq it had national healthcare. It may be difficult in the US for political reasons (healthcare companies contribute oceans of money to politicians, and they're not terribly interested in efficiency or outcomes, just profits), but since it demonstrably can be done, and works well, it's entirely "realistic".

                  • by BitZtream (692029)

                    Because the insurance industry won't allow it.

                    Obamacare is nothing more than a free ride and bonuses for the insurance industry. It brought them more customers at higher rates than they had before. EVERYTHING about Obamacare favors insurance companies.

                    There is no way thats going to end without a massive shift in public perception. As long as people keep thinking Obamacare is a good idea, the insurance companies win.

                  • by Zynder (2773551)
                    I don't think it is unrealistic, the guy I replied to did. That's why it needs to happen no matter the hurt. Rip that band aid off already! Bitzstream's response though is quite correct. The insurance leeches have to be dealt with. The only "voluntary" way to get them to comply is buy them off. Looks like ACA might be just that but it is still better than what we had.
                    • by laird (2705)

                      I agree.

                      According to the people who got the NHS passed in the UK, the way they got it done was to silence objectors by "stuffing their mouths with gold". And in the long run it gave the UK a highly effective, efficient medical care system. So perhaps, even though ACA is absurdly complex, it's still an improvement, and we can gradually, awkwardly iterate towards a healthcare system that's at least moderately good. It would be hard to be worse than our per-ACA system, where we spent 2x as much per capita as a

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      According to this [wikispot.org] limb prosthetic, unless very different in technology, are exempt;

      This section states that these devices are exempt from premarket approval or [WWW]510(k) requirements, except as provided in [WWW]21CFR890.9, which allows this exemption as long as the new device has "existing or reasonably foreseeable characteristics of commercially distributed devices within that generic type," it is intended for the same use and the same user type as existing products, and the device operates on the same fundamental scientific technology.

    • by laird (2705)

      Using traditional manufacturing, prosthetics really ARE very expensive. Remember, they have to manufacture all of the parts in a range of sizes and designs to fit everyone, someone has to come spend time with the patient to fit it, etc. And that's great for people who can pay $10-50K for a prosthetic.

      e-NABLE and Robohand's approach is to replace the expensive manufacturing/stocking process with 3D printing, so you can print just what you need when you need it. And instead of professional designers and docto

  • We already knew this was true. The problem of material durable is still applicable. Until they can build something of the same durability and complexity as modern prosthetics, this is merely a Chubbs MacKenzie quality prosthetic
    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      Printing a mold and then casting in an appropriate material isn't exactly super expensive either. I fail to understand why the biggest complaints about 3d printing are material when you can just cast in any material. The expensive part is always creating the mold.
      • by lgw (121541)

        Well, assuming you can print the mold in some material that's at all suitable for the material you want. Come to think of it, if you had the patience and materials to do a lost-wax casting, you could do a whole lot more.

        • by Jmc23 (2353706)
          I can't understand why there hasn't been a huge drive towards development of 3d printers using wax as the printing material.

          Personally, I think that would be the most useful on a homestead. Coupled with a clay printer of course, for precision manufacture of ceramics. So that covers metal, plastic, glass, ceramic.

          • by laird (2705)

            Actually, 3D printing in wax is routine in jewelry and dentistry, because it's a great material for casting. It's not a consumer technology, so it's not covered in the mainstream press, but those guys LOVE 3D printing. The machines are $5K and up, as they're sold as a business/industrial product, not consumer.

            For the home 3D printers, it's quite common to use the "lost wax" method, but using PLA instead of wax.

    • by laird (2705)

      We're making a lot of progress on that front - there are many people using 3D printed prosthetics in daily use now, and extremely happy with them. (http://enablingthefuture.org has tons of pics). And as 3D printing materials continue advancing, things keep improving. Taulman3D's Bridge, for example, is easy to print with and nearly indestructible.

      That being said, I wouldn't argue that a $50 3D printed prosthetic is better than a $10-50,000 commercially made prosthetic. But what I would say is that it's $50,

  • Good for him (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 50000BTU_barbecue (588132) on Monday April 14, 2014 @03:55PM (#46750885) Homepage Journal
    Anything to bring down the scandalously high prices of some of these medical gizmos. Next, glasses. Hearing aids.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      For glasses, I use Zenni optical. Lots of decent frames under $30 delivered.
      I just started needing glasses and was appalled at how expensive they can be. Granted I might care more if I were wearing them all day, but I've been happy with Zenni & because they're so cheap I can keep a pair of prescription sunglasses in the car, etc.

      • Well, look (ha!) no further than the egregious monopoly exerted by Luxottica and the equally corrupt professional associations in your jurisdiction making sure that the prices stay high.
    • Re:Good for him (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo (196126) * <{ten.3dlrow} {ta} {ojom}> on Monday April 14, 2014 @04:12PM (#46750993) Homepage

      I can't help wondering if buying a saw with better safety features would have been a wiser investment though.

      • I can't help wondering if buying a saw with better safety features would have been a wiser investment though.

        Like what? Toothless blades?

        There's only so many safety features you can work into a tool before it's no longer useful (see: every discussion about DRM-ed guns, like, ever).

        Aside from that, accidents involving circular saws aren't the only reason people need prosthetics.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          There is something called "SawStop" that very rapidly stops the blade and, in the case of a table saw, pulls it down out of the way before it can do serious damage. The trigger is some kind of capacitative sensing I think. The moment the blade touches skin it stops. There are videos on YouTube if you are interested.

          • The problem is that this solution isnt really commercially viable. Sure you will get some shops using it to reduce their safety liability vector, but for the most part its just too expensive. Each stop costs SIGNIFICANT($70+) replacement costs and it false stops more than an acceptable amount.
          • Saw Stop is a brand of table saw. Unfortunately, it's not really a modification you can apply to a saw you already own.
            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              Yep, and unfortunately it seems to be patented to the hilt so anyone who can't afford one will just have to risk losing a few fingers until other manufacturers are allowed to do their own versions.

              • Yep, and unfortunately it seems to be patented to the hilt so anyone who can't afford one will just have to risk losing a few fingers until other manufacturers are allowed to do their own versions.

                Presumably, few patent lawyers use power tools, so as a group they have no incentive to do anything about a patent system that -- by limiting access to safety technology -- contributes to people getting crippled for life in the workplace (or at home).

                In ethics terms, the problem here has a name: "conflict of interest".

                There is a conflict between coming up with a sensible patent system that works to the benefit of humanity (or deciding to have no patent system), and coming up with a system that makes lots of

          • There is something called "SawStop" that very rapidly stops the blade and, in the case of a table saw, pulls it down out of the way before it can do serious damage.

            Yes.

            It's also one-time-use, and destroys both your table and blade. Still, a far sight better than losing a couple flanges, assuming one can even afford a SawStop equipped table - I've yet to find one for less than $1,400, whereas a comparable table without SawStop would cost a fraction of that.

            And, of course, such a system doesn't work with non-table-mounted equipment, like handheld circular and reciprocating saws.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Instant stop? You can stick your finger into the blade at full speed and it will stop before it breaks the skin.

          Both my table and chop saw have it, and I have all my digits in full working order, which is important for someone who uses their fingers all day long (Software engineer)

          • Instant stop? You can stick your finger into the blade at full speed and it will stop before it breaks the skin.

            There is such technology, known by its brand name as "SawStop," but A) it only works on table saws, B) adds at least a $1,000 premium to the cost of the machine, and C) is one-time-use - it destroys the blade and table if deployed (although, the fact that you can buy spare brake cartridges makes me think it doesn't completely destroy the table).

            Better than nothing, but not really a feasible solution to the issue of people losing body parts to power tools.

      • Beats me, but I always use a scrap of wood to push or guide my workpiece.
    • by ve3oat (884827)
      Yes, please, especially hearing aids. Please! Please!
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Hearing aid are really hard to do correctly, and you can't have accurate, and a generic line at the same time.

        That said, what is preventing you form trying to make a cheaper and better one?

        • Um, the local "professional association" whose mandate is to "protect the public" from low prices?
          • by geekoid (135745)

            Sounds like an excuse to me.
            You don't need approval to build prototypes.
            If you can should you can make a reliable, well functioning, person hearing aid cheaper, you can get investors.

            • And pray tell, how will you make money selling these devices? Surely the investors will want a return? The moment you sell them, you'll have the full force of the audiologist's association in your area against you, and they'll have the weight of the government to enforce it. Or they'll force you to sell them at the same price as all the others.... And now you're back to square 0.
      • by mt1955 (698912)

        re: hearing -- to keep this from coming across as an ad or spam I encoded it just a little but I'm sure you'll get it; I just got my first one a couple of months ago for less than $250 from a site with same name as a big famous river in South America. If you go there (the site, not the river) search for Tweak Hearing Focus Model. Small design, smart electronics, works great and real people at the seller actually answer the phone if you have questions or need anything. Like all super heroes these do have on

    • by brunes69 (86786)

      Hearing aids are still crazy overpriced, but perscription glasses can be easily purchased online for $10 or even for free. Before I got my LASIK a few years ago I got a new pair two of glasses for free every few months using coupon codes from Goggles4U or clearly contacts.

  • But I think an image of the guy the parent ariticle is about would be better than showing a child with challenged DNA.
    • by thelexx (237096)

      Liam had Amniotic Band Syndrome happen to that hand. Nothing to do with genetics. As the parent of child with a similar condition, thank you for confirming my fears as to how she will be perceived by people. :(

      • As a parent myself, I can say my children are more understanding than I am. I'm very proud of that. I tell my children, "If you have a problem, own it; in front of everyone." It's the only parenting that they seem to consider. I hope you have more luck.
  • Should it read: 'Handyman losses hand and handily makes new one'?
  • The outrageous price of prosthetics from traditional medical companies is due to inelasticity of demand (the medical insurance company usually pays for them, not the consumer, and fingers are important) and also willingness to pay (for the percentage copays, the patient is happy to pay their portion normally because fingers are important to have). This is an economics issue, folks, not a materials engineering issue.
  • But how did he sketch out the idea?
  • by Big_Breaker (190457) on Monday April 14, 2014 @05:03PM (#46751335)

    Once the fingers are lost, no prosthetic will be as good as the original. Why not let a "prosthetic" hand take the injury in the first place? As a bonus you have the intact, unmaimed hand to drive the actuators on the device. Use the sacrificial hands for dangerous work around saws and such. It could be like this:

    http://www.amazon.com/Toysmith-833-12-Robot-Hand-18/dp/B000ID1DU0

    But better... If it was good enough people would use it out of habit. Old school special effects guys used cable setups to animate puppets in live action scenes, sometimes down to the individual fingers.

    • But better... If it was good enough people would use it out of habit.

      Unfortunately all attempts at making remote manipulation devices both mechanical and electronic have resulted in things that are far more cumbersome than using your hands directly. The human arm and hand is an amazingly good maniupulator with extremely good feedback so it can grasp something firmly without damaging it.

      There is usually a way to clamp the workpeice and keep your fingers out of harms way but it's slower and more cumbersome than just holding it and people have a nasty habit of getting overconfi

    • Why not let a "prosthetic" hand take the injury in the first place?

      Yes, it's called a push stick. It takes about five minutes to make one.

      • I know about push sticks but sometimes you need more dexterity. Also people will accidentally reach for something reflexively, through distraction or fatigue, and hurt themselves even when a push stick or whatever is nearby. -- I was going to say handy but didn't want to make a pun.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      Why not let a "prosthetic" hand take the injury in the first place?

      Because

      Once the fingers are lost, no prosthetic will be as good as the original.

      The answer to your question is the reason you're asking the question in the first place.

  • Carpenter Who Cut Off His Fingers Makes "Robohand" With 3-D Printer, Cuts Off Other Fingers With 3-D Printer

  • ...has been doing this for decades already. Except he melts down plastic bottles and pads the fingertips with leather cut from an old jacket.
  • ...a carpenter that used his talents to heal the maimed and bring joy to the world.

    It kinda rings a bell... have we heard this before?

  • If you want to help with enabling people to 3D print prosthetics at home, a group actively working on it is e-NABLE (http://enablingthefuture.org). There are numerous open source designs, and lots of people using them and providing feedback. We have Google Hangouts (https://plus.google.com/u/1/communities/102497715636887179986) on various topics several times a week (there's an R&D group working on the mechanisms, there's a group building a web site so that people can put in their measurements and get p

It was kinda like stuffing the wrong card in a computer, when you're stickin' those artificial stimulants in your arm. -- Dion, noted computer scientist

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