It starts with Richard Van As, a master carpenter in Johannesburg, South Africa. Van As lost his fingers in a work-related accident. While at the hospital, he decided to build a new set of fingers for himself. It took him some time to find someone who was willing to help, and eventually Van As came into contact with Ivan Owen, a mechanical props specialist in Washington State. Together, Van As and Owen started working on plans and prototypes for functional prosthetic fingers.
The two posted the progress of their collaboration, now called Robohand, to Facebook, and it was through Facebook that Yolandi Dipenaar reached out to Van As. She wanted to find out if Van As and Owen could help her son, Liam, who was born with amniotic band syndrome, without fingers on his right hand. Days later, Liam was fitted for his first Robohand.
Word spread quickly, and soon Van As and Owen were making Robohands for other children like Liam. Many of these children are young, and would outgrow traditional prosthetics, which cost thousands of dollars, within a year. A Robohand costs about $150.
Van As and Owen never thought that they would be helping children all over the world, but after the success of Liam’s Robohand, they posted the specs and assembly instructions on Thingiverse. Anyone with access to a 3D printer can make a Robohand. The files have already been downloaded nearly 4,000 times.