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Carpenter who cut off his fingers makes 'Robohand' with 3-D printer

He made his own replacement fingers, now creates them for others

CNN News Wire | 4/14/2014, 10:30 a.m.
"I was in a position to see exactly what happens in the human hand. I got the basics of what ...
Body parts such as knuckles and joints are printed from the the thermoplastic material Polylactide (PLA), and are combined with stainless steel and aluminum to produce a personalized prosthetic.

The simplicity of the ordering process has led to demand outstripping what Robohand can supply, with requests for limbs coming from almost every country around the globe. There is now an eight-month waiting list when orders are placed.

"I know of only three countries that haven't had a hand yet," says van As. "To make sure everyone can have access we essentially steal from the rich and give to the poor. Those who can afford it pay, and those that can't we find a way for someone to pay it for them."

Because Robohand's manuals and 3-D printable files are available online, others are also using its designs to print prosthetics. "We stopped counting at 200 hands that were made back in November 2013," says van As. "But we can see there have now been over 143,000 downloads of the software. People all over the world are doing this without us. We don't even know of them all."

Paying it forward

The majority of its customers are in the United States, where most customers can afford its relatively low prices, so van As is able to subsidize prosthetics for those who are more disadvantaged.

"We had Dylan Laas in L.A. who received a Robohand and when his dad saw the impact he paid for Waldo, another person on our waiting list, to receive one as well," says van As.

Waldo was also born with ABS, like Liam, leaving him no fingers on his right hand, and van As was able to fit him with a working hand too.

"It's all about paying it forward as people want to help," says van As.

Robohand is growing and the team plans on expanding past the fingers and arms currently on offer. "Our next step is to print whole legs for people to use and walk on," explains van As. But it doesn't stop there. "Then if we make that work, the goal is entire exoskeletons, for paraplegics to be able to walk again."