JOHANNSEBERG, SOUTH AFRCA - When master carpenter Richard Van As lost four fingers on his right hand in a table saw accident in 2011, he said he was immediately determined to find a way to regain use of his hand to continue pursuing his livelihood.
Van As of South Africa turned to 3D digital printing technology to help build a prosthetic device that would provide the needed flexibility and agility to mimic the hand that was severely injured in the blink of an eye.
Van As collaborated with designer Ivan Owen based in Washington state, who had posted a YouTube video of a mechanical hand prop he had invented. The duo corresponded regularly through the Internet and Skype, reviewing each others' sketches and photos.
Using 3D printers, Van As and Owen were able to prototype and manufacture small parts made mostly from plastic for what would ultimately become the mechanical fingers for a device dubbed Robohand. Using the device has helped Van As resume his carpentry career.
While his initial attention for the device was focused on serving his own needs, the device quickly gained the attention of parents of children born with birth defects or who have suffered hand injuries. Van As said he has made than 100 hands being used by kids to live more normal lives. His price tag - about $100 each, far less expensive than conventional prostheses. (Watch Robohand video.)
Van As and Owen said their next goal is to make the Robohand available on the Internet so that anyone in the world can access the needed information to make their own device using a 3D printer to get a perfect fit.
Learn more at Robohand.net.
The only thing that cannot be copied is a tendon.
To solve this problem, the pair created a bungee to return the finger and then a cable to pull it.
Mr Van As says he has now made well over a hundred hands for people who do not have the funds to buy a conventional prosthetic.