When eight-year-old Luke Dennison wears his prosthetic hand to school, the other kids think he’s cool. Then he tells them that his Dad made it. Currently, Little Cool Hand Luke is on his fifth hand, as his dad moves through better and better designs.
Luke’s dad is clearly pretty cool too, but any mom or dad could do the same, using E-Nable, a network which matches folks with 3-D printers with nearby people who need prosthetic limbs. The service launched at the end of 2014 and now has over 5,000 volunteers.
The idea is that E-Nable also provides free, downloadable designs, and these designs can be tweaked and customized to better suit the wearer. Luke’s Dad, Gregg, went one step further and purchased his own Ultimaker 3-D printer. "Luke loves being able to pick the colors of his hand and show new designs off to his friends at school," he told the Ultimaker blog. Luke was born without the use of his left hand but still has use of his wrist, and the design of his hand lets him make a fist by flexing his wrist.
Gregg says that Luke also gets involved in the process of designing and fine-tuning the hands. Imagine being a kid and being able to have your dad add your custom features to your hand or to be able to play without worrying about breaking an expensive medical device. If Luke snaps a finger, his dad can just print a new one. Another E-Nable volunteer, Aaron Brown, prints hands in superhero-themed colors and even made a Wolverine hand with Velcro-attached plastic claws on the knuckles.
It’s hard to see any downside to the E-Nable project. It’s a pretty clear illustration of how 3-D printers, combined with the internet, put a lot of power into the hands of regular people.