Thanks to the help of two strangers 10,000 miles apart, one energetic 5-year-old is writing and colouring with his right hand for the very first time.
As a result of a congenital disorder known as Ambiotic Band Syndrome, Liam Dippenaar – pictured above – was born without fingers on his right hand. Though Liam’s “small hand,” as he calls it, hasn’t stopped him from becoming incredibly independent, his parents wanted to do everything in their power to try and help him and give him every opportunity. As luck would have it, such an opportunity presented itself in the form of a blog.
Ivan Owen and Richard Van As started their blog, Coming up Short Handed, to document their Robohand project, an open-sourced device built with customized prosthetic fingers. Owen and Van As started the project in 2011 when Owen agreed to help Van As build a prosthetic. Van As had lost most of the fingers on his right hand in a woodworking accident whereas Owen had built a large mechanical hand as part of a costume. Van As contacted Owen and found in him a willing partner in the quest to build what would later become the Robohand.
“[Richard] was told that he would have been better off if he had lost his entire hand instead – because there just aren’t many options out there for people who have only lost fingers” -Coming Up Short Handed
The going was slow at first, but MakerBot‘s donation of two Replicator2 desktop 3D printers helped to kick the project into high gear, allowing the team to prototype parts in 20 minutes that would previously have taken days. Using computer aided design software and the 3D printers, Owen and Vas As could exchange files and make changes in minutes.
After finding their blog, Liam’s mother, Yolandi, contacted Van As in the hopes that they may be able to help her son. Several trials and prototypes later, Liam had his very own Robohand, free of charge. The benefits were clear even with an early “Pen Hand” device which Van As created for Liam.
“I made him an attachment to be able to hold a pen to write. (…) His letters were in the correct sequence and right way around. Good-bye dyslexia.” -Richard Van As to Ivan Owen
It had been thought that Liam was left-handed, though with the help of a simple prosthetic Liam was almost immediately able to write his name correctly with his right hand, “Imagine what he could do with a functioning prosthetic!” wrote Van As.
You can watch “Little Bull Liam” with his new prosthetic in the video below and enjoy the wonderful story of how one man’s desire to think out of the box, another’s mechanical ingenuity and the boundless applications of 3D printing are helping Liam and others like him all around the world.
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