Using open source models, 3D printers and teamwork, 250 Intel employee-volunteers assembled cost-effective robotic hands that can transform children into superheroes.
When engineer Shashi Jain first met Juan, the boy would barely make eye contact. The 11-year-old was missing digits and part of the wrist on his left limb, but he wasn’t interested in hearing about the 3D-printed prosthetic hands Jain designed and built.
Instead, he focused on translating the discussion for his parents, who didn’t speak English.
Juan’s teacher had set this meeting up at the Mini Maker Faire in Portland, OR, thinking that Juan would benefit from a robotic hand. He wasn’t convinced, but Jain persuaded him to take a prosthetic hand home, to give it a try.
Built using open source modeling software, 3D-printed parts and additional low-cost materials, Jain can make the hand for a mere $15. Because the robotic hand didn’t cost thousands of dollars — the price tag on a medical-grade prosthetic — Juan could try out the model before deciding whether to use it permanently.
“It’s remarkable that we could do something like this,” explained Jain, an Internet of Things Innovation Manager at Intel. “I can build a hand for less than $20, including shipping it to the recipient.”
Juan gave it a try and had one request: Build a hand that looked like Spiderman’s.
After several iterations and failed models, Jain printed a Raptor Reloaded hand that fit the boy.
The change — not simply physical — was undeniable.
Once a failing math and science student, Juan pulled up his grades enough to be accepted into a technical middle school. Not only did the boy get on stage at the latest talent show, he’d gained a newfound interest in engineering.
“He was like a totally different person. It was a really neat change to see,” Jain said, explaining that kids with the 3D-printed hands often come to feel like superheroes. “The prosthetics are interesting in that they give back fingers, but they also give back a sense of self-worth and confidence.”
Jain taught Juan how to assemble the hands, which inspired the boy to build his own from a print he’d created at the local library.
Robert Downey Jr. and Albert Manero, a #CollectiveProject student who founded Limbitless, surprised a very special child with a new bionic 3D printed arm at no cost to the family.
Hands Building Hands
Jain first became interested in 3D-printed limbs when he saw news stories about the mind-blowing prosthetics people were making. A year and a half later, Jain joined a group led by Intel employees Dan Mcculley, Chris Ross, Rebecca Johnson, Matthias Giessler and Jim Talerico. The group was instrumental in setting up a volunteer event to mass produce 100 robotic hands, and Jain helped ensure those hands made it to people in Haiti.
The organization responsible for transforming children into confident smiling superheroes is the Enable Community Foundation. This non-profit organization supports Enabling the Future (e-NABLE), a global network of volunteers that design, 3D print, assemble and fit recipients with prosthetic hands and arms.
These robotic hands and arms help more than children. For the one in 1,000 people born with a congenital disease that leaves them with partially formed hands or anyone who’s lost an appendage to an accident, these 3D printed prosthetics can be life changing.
e-NABLE was founded by Jon Schull, a research scientist at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity who understood the power of these hands. Schull was initially inspired by a YouTube video.
In the video, a South African carpenter who accidently cut off four fingers on his hand, and a Washington state-based prop maker collaborated remotely to build a 3D-printed hand. Schull then created a Google map mashup that would connect people who wanted to help with those who needed it and added it to the video’s comments section.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of what we develop and the speed at which we develop it,” Schull said. “We’ve discovered we can do a lot with a ragtag group of volunteers.”
What began as a “fledgling social network” of 100 people when Jain joined a little more than a year ago, quickly grew into a global movement with a Google+ community with more than six thousand members. Inspired to do even more, Jain was an integral part of setting up a volunteer event for Intel employees at the company’s annual manufacturing excellence conference.
The goal was to have 280 volunteers build 100 Raptor Reloaded robotic hands for Haitian children and adults in just two hours. Although this was not an official e-NABLE-sponsored event, the Intel event demonstrates one way corporations can help support the foundation’s efforts: by hosting private handathon events to marshall volunteers and build hands.
This design, which is one of the most popular models, is ideal for people who have enough wrist strength to open and close the hand. It’s also relatively easy to build and, to the delight of many children, looks the most like a superhero hand.
The first step, however, was to download the 3D models for hands ranging in sizes from toddler to adult and leverage the more than 60 Intel-owned 3D printers in Malaysia, Israel and other company locations worldwide.
“We reached out to all of these locations and asked them to print all the parts,” explained Ross, a Professional Maker at Intel who helped get company buy-in, set up practice-build sessions and otherwise ensure the event’s success. “We were pulling our hair out trying to get pieces for 100 hands simultaneously.”
Volunteers formed two- or three-person teams and began building hands like crazy.
“There was such a determination to bring this to fruition,” said Jain, who helped volunteers master the assembly process. “People from all over the company bonded over this, giving each other high fives. It was truly a sight to behold.”
After all the hands were built and ready to go, e-NABLE sent them to Haiti as part of a pilot project that connects people in third world countries with robotic hands.
The funding for the project came from a grant distributed by the Genesis Prize Foundation. The Enable Community Foundation was selected as one of nine winning teams awarded a grant of $100,000 as part of the Genesis Generation Challenge, a competition created in honor of 2015 Genesis Prize Laureate and former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Additional funding came from the Intel Involved Matching Grant Program, where Intel donates $10 for every volunteer hour someone accrues up to $10,000 for nonprofit organizations. The extra funding will help the Enable Community Foundation to continue changing lives across the globe.
Ultimately, Schull sees an opportunity for Intel to continue partnering with the foundation as the robotic devices evolve.
“I think Intel can help us find robust ways to implement technology into the devices,” he said.
In the meantime, the 100 hands will have a substantial impact for Haitian children and adults.
“The question goes from being ‘Will my insurance pay for this?’ to ‘Will this fit me? Will it allow me to become who I want to be?’’ Jain explained. “The magic is what it does for people.”