A low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hand

Low cost 3D-printed hand making prosthetics more affordable

Image credit: Ithaca College

A 3D-printed prosthetic hand made of components worth as little as $15 aims to offer an affordable alternative to high-tech bionic hands for low-income amputees.

The technology, developed by Ithaca College physicist Ryan Bouricius would particularly suit children who tend to outgrow such devices very quickly, putting a massive financial burden on the families.

“There are people who are working on electronic hands, but they’re extremely expensive, not easy to repair and many are not available for sale,” said Physics Professor Michael ‘Bodhi’ Rogers who oversaw the project.

Bouricius added: “Consider a family that would need one for a child, but the child would simply outgrow it in a few months. This model allows us to reprint prosthetics as the child would grow up.”

The hand is made of inexpensive plastic components. The use of 3D-printing allows the engineers to only use the exact amount of material they need, avoiding waste and thus optimising the cost.

“The nice thing about 3-D printing is that the price only has to do with the amount of plastic used, not the complexity of the piece,” Bouricius said. “So even though my modified pieces are trickier shapes, since it’s the same amount of plastic, it’s the same amount of money.”

The prosthetic hand is designed for a person who still has the ability to move their wrist. By moving their wrist, they can control and use the hand’s fingers to grab and hold various objects.

“I like to use it around the apartment to see what problems are faced, because I can only imagine what it would be like to actually need a prosthetic hand,” Bouricius said. “It’s given me an appreciation for what human hands can do and I’ve been trying to match it as best as I can.”

Through his testing and tinkering, Bouricius has made changes to the original design that provide the hand with more functionality. For example, he changed the orientation of the hand’s thumb, which was originally perpendicular to the fingers, so that it can more effectively grab a variety of items. He has also worked to optimise the grip for various items, such as a marker or a coffee mug.

The researchers hope to test the device with a real amputee to get optimum user feedback.

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