Need a hand?

I remain fascinated by a feature on NPR this week about two men who worked virtually together across the country to develop prosthetic fingers using 3-D printers.  

Richard Van As, a South African carpenter who had lost two fingers in an accident with a table saw, and Ivan Owen, a puppeteer from Washington State who had developed a “big puppet hand,” now rely on steel cables that allow their hands to again move and bend.  

These two connected and began to work together long distance, which resulted in their partnership to develop a mechanical finger for the carpenter. But more to the story: they were contacted by a parent asking them to develop a mechanical hand for their five-year-old son, Liam, who was born with a rare congenital condition.

They were able to accomplish this task in a matter of days.  From there they began working with MakerBot, a firm that makes 3-D printing equipment, to see if this could be used to develop a 3-D printed hand. The designs and instructions can be found free at Thingiverse so anyone can download the plans and with a 3-D printer and about $150 in parts – make a hand.

Van As has fitted more than 100 children with robot hands, all for free.  He wants to train other people to learn how to assemble the parts and is raising some money to help in the effort.

What a great story of the power of the human spirit — of the strength of connections that can be made virtually — and about giving back.  This should inspire each of us.