E-Nabling the Future: Designing and 3D Printing Prosthetic Hands
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E-Nabling the Future: Designing and 3D Printing Prosthetic Hands

on Jul 15 2014 , 15:21:30

e-NABLE is a hype-decentralized online community of makers, 3D printer operators, designers & engineers who design 3D printed prosthetic hands. Volunteers from all over the world cooperate by writing the copy, doing designs, doing photography and together help kids who don’t have prosthetic hands. Regular prosthetics costs tens of thousands of dollars. They are unaffordable in developing countries.

Furthermore, even in wealthy nations they are not given to kids. Since kids grow rapidly it would necessitate giving them new prosthetics every few months or years. This is too expensive. Because of this kids are often given simple plastic hands or hooks that provide little or no functionality. Only when they are fully grown are they given a hand that can be used to pick up things. e-NABLE is trying to change this and make functional desktop 3D printed prosthetics available to kids everywhere for $25-$50.

The kids wearing these prosthetics can pick up things, play with them and use them to engage the world around them. By working directly with the kids, getting feedback & iterating e-NABLE is quickly able to improve the designs. What is also important is that through 3D printing kids can customize their designs. Rather than get stares for a hook kids get stares because they have a cool looking pink robot hand and get approached with curiosity about this hand.

I had the chance to interview Peregrine Hawthorne an inspring young gentleman whose father made him an e-NABLE hand. Both he and his father are now helping e-NABLE to improve the hands for other kids.

Peregrine Hawthorne: A little background: I’m currently 19 years old, and serving in Americorps NCCC FEMACorps giving 10 months of service to America in the form of helping disaster survivors and making sure people are safer and better prepared in the event of a disaster. I’ve been using some form or another of an e-Nable hand since august, and my dad and I joined e-Nable in November.

Joris Peels: What is it like wearing the e-Nable device?

Peregrine Hawthorne: I really like wearing my Talon. Especially now that we’ve advanced it enough to where it’s pretty comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I get some odd looks from people, but it’s pretty much always curiosity and sometimes awe, and I really can’t blame them. It’s pretty awesome. I get asked about my Talon a lot, and a lot of people apologize to my for asking, but honestly I could talk for days about it, and I’m happy to answer any questions they have.

Peregrine Hawthorne (right)

Peregrine Hawthorne (right)

Joris Peels: Are you able to pick things up with it well?

Peregrine Hawthorne: Well enough for most things. I’ve got about 10 lbs of lift right now, which is good enough for some things, but not enough things as I’d like. It’s mostly good for carrying things, particularly for when I want to use my phone with my other hand, or carry a large number of things that I can’t just carry in a pile like a plate of food and a drink.

Joris Peels: What kind of range of motion do you get with it? 

Peregrine Hawthorne: My fingers are extended with my wrist bent back about 30 degrees, and fully closed with my wrist bent forward at about 45 degrees. We’ve got some designs that would allow some side-to-side motion that I’m pretty excited about, but it’s still in the works. It was awkward to use it for anything at first, and before I learned how to properly use it, a lot of tasks were harder with it on, but after a month or so of using it for yard-work and house cleaning, I got competent with it. Now I can use it well enough people think I have individual finger movement and I can turn pages in a book.

Joris Peels: How does it compare with previous prosthetics? 

Peregrine Hawthorne: Well, the closest thing I’d used to a prosthetic was an ‘opposition bar’ strapped to my forearm that I could pin something to, and I think I remember using that for about a week before I decided that it got in the way more than it helped. We could never have never afforded a commercial prosthetic.

Joris Peels:What could be improved?

Peregrine Hawthorne: I’m always looking at grip strength. The more of the strength I can put from my wrist into my fingers the better. So far, this would involve some improving the fit of the gauntlet, the cable tension system, as well as the cables themselves, and perhaps a new finger design we have in the works.


Joris Peels: Bespoke Innovations and others have been experimenting with prosthetics and fairings that are customized, look good or are more to user user’s tastes. Do you see that as something valuable for you? The fact that you could have it in red or made in a particular shape?

Peregrine Hawthorne: I believe a good prosthetic is far more than a tool or a medical device. A good prosthetic is an extension of who you are that you use to influence the world around you. It’s incredibly important that the user can identify with, and like, their body, be it biological or mechanical. I’ve seen many kids get their hands in pink or purple, or red and black, or with their name cut into the bracer with spirals around it, or with the Superman ‘S’ on it. This makes it more than a tool or a medical device. This gives it the character and life of the user.

My Talon is printed in black ABS and smoothed to a glossy shine. The fingers are tipped with jewel tone grip pads with rows of fins for grip, My cables are thick vibrant blue and curl back into the bracer in a particular pattern, mirroring the fingers they lead to. the straps are fastened with polished copper plates, curled around steel rings.

The leather is dyed to a rusty red/brown and black, and stamped with the symbol of Cyborg Pride and Dark Science from a comic I love. My father is an amazing craftsman, and it shows in this work. It makes me all the more proud to wear my Talon wherever I go. It doesn’t just enable me, it enables me like a boss. (End of interview)

If you’d like to get involved with the e-NABLE community you can check out the website here. You can fill out the form here outlining your skills and what you’d like to do. You can indicate if you need a prosthetic, want to 3D print hands for people or want to help with administration or design.

Then you can join the e-NABLE Google Community and share your ideas and feedback after which a person from the Matchmaking Team will get in touch with you and help you find a place in the community. Disclosure: I’m an e-NABLE volunteer and think its just about the coolest thing happening in 3D printing! Join us!

Joris Peels is a heavyweight 3D printing industry commentator who doesn’t shy away from discussions and is never short on educated, animated opinions. Joris blogs about 3D printing at VoxelFab and works as a consultant in the 3D printing industry. He previously worked for Shapeways and i.materialise and as a developer of Origo, a 3D printer for kids.

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