I'm not sure any news story I've seen recently encapsulates my admiration of human ingenuity and compassion like this one about Harmony Taylor. She's a pre-schooler in Cedar Springs, Michigan and was born without fingers on her right hand. This year, some high school students from West Catholic High School presented Harmony with an amazing gift -- a robotic hand.
The students were able to build the hand themselves using a design created by a partnership between Richard Van As and Ivan Owen. Van As had lost the fingers on his right hand due to an accident and Ivan Owen is a special effects engineer. Van As looked to Owen for expertise when he began working on designs for a robotic hand for himself. They used 3D printers from MakerBot to build the various prototypes. They were able to work together closely on the project despite living 10,000 miles apart.
The 3D printing meant that the two could design and build iterations of the robotic hand relatively quickly, something that doesn't happen with traditional manufacturing. Van As began to document his experience and before long was contacted by other people who were interested in getting a robotic hand. At that point, Van As hadn't considered making hands for other people but he soon realized that his project had incredible potential to help others. His project is called Robohand.
The original designs for the robotic hand (along with other designs for a robotic arm or even robotic fingers for people who suffered limited injury to their hands) are available for free. If you have a 3D printer and the right raw materials, you could print one. Van As stresses the importance of using the right types of plastic and metal for the hand to ensure safety.
Getting back to Harmony, the West Catholic High School students were able to print the materials and assemble Harmony's Robohand over the course of about six weeks. They presented the hand to Harmony on December 19th along with a bottle of pink nail polish. Harmony said she can't wait to paint her new nails.
Okay, so we've got 3D printing, articulated mechanical hands and great examples of people caring about each other. I can't help but read stories like this and feel more excited about the future. If you'd like to learn more about the Robohand project and how it evolved over time, here's a great video about the journey.