Prosthetic limbs traditionally cost many thousands of dollars, doubling the pain of people who have already suffered enough. But several projects are showing how it's possible to produce artificial arms and legs for less.

A while ago, we wrote about a couple of guys who got together over the Internet to build themselves a bionic hand from Meccano and an Erector Set. It wasn't pretty--but it was effective.

Then, there was Pinchy--an arm made by two seniors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Now comes another project, this time from Alabama. Zero Point Frontiers, an engineering company in Huntsville, has built a simple plastic hand, using nothing more than a MakerBot 3D printer.

A two-year-old named Kate Berkholtz, who was born without fingers because of a congenital abnormality, is using the device.

According to WAFF, a local TV station, the hand costs only $5, and can be made in a single day--meaning it can easily be replaced, if need be, or adjusted as Kate gets older.

"It's that price tag that has the interest of parents of kids who need prosthetics. Depending on the type, you're looking at between $25,000-$50,000 for a prosthetic." "The problem is, most insurance companies won't pay for a child's prosthetic. They just grow out of them too fast."

Zero Point says it's planning a Kickstarter campaign to further develop the device, which is made of plastic pieces, screws, and bungee cords.

2013-10-25

Co.Exist

This 3-D Printed Prosthetic Hand Costs Just $5

Prosthetics are incredibly expensive--unless you go the DIY route.

Prosthetic limbs traditionally cost many thousands of dollars, doubling the pain of people who have already suffered enough. But several projects are showing how it's possible to produce artificial arms and legs for less.

A while ago, we wrote about a couple of guys who got together over the Internet to build themselves a bionic hand from Meccano and an Erector Set. It wasn't pretty--but it was effective, and the two have since gone on to set up their company. Then, there was Pinchy--an arm made by two seniors at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Now comes another project, this time from Alabama. Zero Point Frontiers, an engineering company in Huntsville, has built a simple plastic hand, using nothing more than a MakerBot 3D printer. A two-year-old named Kate Berkholtz, who was born without fingers because of a congenital abnormality, is using the device. According to WAFF, a local TV station, the hand costs only $5, and can be made in a single day--meaning it can easily be replaced, if need be, or adjusted as Kate gets older:

It's that price tag that has the interest of parents of kids who need prosthetics. Depending on the type, you're looking at between $25,000-$50,000 for a prosthetic. The problem is, most insurance companies won't pay for a child's prosthetic. They just grow out of them too fast. At such a cheap cost, this might be the solution that families have been looking for, including Kate's.

Zero Point says it's planning a Kickstarter campaign to further develop the device, which is made of plastic pieces, screws, and bungee cords. Check out the slide show above to see what it has come up with so far.

The trend doesn't end there. A 17-year-old named Easton LaChappelle created a 3-D arm in his bedroom--an invention he recently showed off to President Obama. And this guy from the U.K. has created the "Dextrus hand." It costs less than $1,000.

None of these products yet approach professional grade, but they all show a lot of promise. There's no reason to think that prosthetics shouldn't be a lot cheaper in the future--good news for anyone who can't afford today's technology

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3 Comments

  • Anthony Mitchell

    A big challenge in prosthetics is fitting the device to what remains of the connecting body part. Plaster casts, cut open and sent off to be scanned, have improved matters immensely. Such fittings cannot be done by the individual user. We are not going to be sitting in our basements printing out replacement body parts for ourselves for some time to come.

    Secondly, many key components are unsuitable for 3D printing. Look at the College Park TruPer® Foot for kids, for example (search online for it). Much of the magic in today’s prosthetics comes from carbon fiber and titanium. Printed components would fail in such applications.

    Last but not least, many of the problems that prosthetics wears face stem from old-fashion mechanical problems. It can be impossible a keep a strap in the same place, at a comfortable level of tension, especially if it is separated from the skin by a layer or two of clothing. All the recent news stories about high-tech parts and micro-chipping have not altered the basic experience for many users, which can be uncomfortable at best.

  • Nils Hitze

    Sorry to interrupt but a) the material alone is more than $5 at least if you're buying good one, which you should and you've missed to calculate worktime, elastic string, velcro, energy, printer use and others. It's still very very affordable ^^ and b) more important - the original design was made by Richard van As and Ivan Owen from Robohand, based on a model from Ivan. Richard developed it further. So it's not ZeroPoints Invention, only a design based on the original RoboHand Design imho