When Richard van As accidentally severed his fingers in a woodworking accident, he was disappointed to find out that there were no prosthetic limbs that would grant him the strength and range of motion needed for him to continue working as a tradesman. He asked doctors and scientists all over the world about the possibility of creating such a device, but was always told that it would be impossible.
With a lot of determination and creativity, he developed a prototype that would enable him to grasp objects just like a regular hand. After teaming up with Ivan Owen, a mechanical props designer, they launched RoboHand and began perfecting their designs. They began manufacturing their designs using a 3D printer, which kept costs low (while traditional prosthetic limbs are prohibitively expensive for many people). Once word got out about Richard’s project, families began to contact RoboHand in search for a solution that would work for children who were born without fingers.
After a few years of research and development, the design was finally ready to be custom fit to children and adults alike. The device is mostly made from orthopedic thermoplastic, which allows the user to have the mold fit perfectly to their limb, and also allows for maximum airflow and comfort. The joints are fastened with aluminum and stainless steel hardware, while a series of cables allows the wearer to control the fingers using wrist motion.
What’s truly groundbreaking is that Richard originally decided to publish the designs on Thingverse so that anyone who has access to a 3D printer would be able to manufacture their own RoboHand. The creative use of this technology has enabled people from developing nations, particularly in Africa, to have functioning hands when they would have not been able to otherwise. Since launching the open-source designs, RoboHand has decided that all of their future endeavors will be kept proprietary (mainly due to safety concerns), but either way, their process has been truly revolutionary.
This is a great example of someone creating an invention, even when the idea seemed impossible, and then sharing it with the world. RoboHand likely has a lot of intellectual property debates ahead of them, but for now, they are just excited to see so many helped by their designs.