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InternationalRobohand: tragedy to miracle

December 1, 2013

This is a Robohand created by Richard Van As and Ivan Owen.

This is a Robohand created by Richard Van As and Ivan Owen.









Photo Courtesy of Robohand Facebook

3-D printing is opening the door for almost anyone without a hand or fingers to make their own functional and inexpensive prosthesis called Robohand. This device allows people without the use of hands to grasp objects. It is a miracle, but it started with a tragedy in South Africa two years ago.

Richard Van As accidentally cut off four fingers of his right hand with his circular saw. During a painful recovery, Van As found that the myoelectric hand, which allows movement through sensing nerve impulses, was too expensive at $10,000. So, he decided to make one for himself that he could share with others.

On YouTube, he saw a mechanical hand developed by Ivan Owen in Bellingham, WA. Together the two formed a long-distance partnership.

For the first hand, Van AS used his carpentry expertise to make robotic fingers.  However, that process was too complicated and time-consuming to make more than just a few prostheses.

The solution was a gift to each man of a 3-D printer from Makerbot. It allowed them to quickly and accurately print parts and test designs.  Their collaboration resulted in an inexpensive, streamlined process to make Robohands.

3-D printers layer melted plastic to print parts, such as fingers. The fingers are attached to a thermoplastic glove with cables and screws. After the prosthesis is assembled, it is fitted to the wearer. Wrist rotation causes robotic fingers to move and grasp.

Through donations, Van As is now giving his own time to help others make Robohands. The design is a free download from the internet and can be resized on a computer. The parts cost about $150.

What a savings! What a gift!

Visit and like Robohand on Facebook.


Published December 2013

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