Mar. 13, 2015 | By Kira

Like almost any seven-year-old, Alex Pring loves superheroes and riding his bike. Unlike most children, however, Alex was born with a partially developed right arm, and although he is comfortable with himself, he has spent most of his life avoiding the subject in public. Last summer, engineering student and e-NABLE volunteer Albert Manero collaborated with Alex’s family to 3D print a myoeletric prosthetic limb to give him back some confidence and control over his life. Little did they know, that was just the beginning of a project that would make Alex’s wildest dream come true.

Yesterday in Atlanta, Robert Downey Jr - a.k.a, the world famous actor who just happens to play bionic engineer and all-around superhero Iron Man - posted a video to his Facebook page which shows him, dressed as Tony Stark, delivering an Iron Man-style bionic arm to an adorably star struck Alex.

In the video, which has been shared over 480,000 times, Downey surprises Alex in a hotel room and introduces himself as a ‘bionic specialist’ with two mechanical arms to present: one an Iron Man prop, the other, a functional prosthetic limb. The arms even came in high-tech crates carrying the 'Stark Industries' logo. “Why don’t we both try one on and do a progress report?” suggested Downey. For a seven-year-old boy, Alex plays it surprisingly cool, however when somebody in the background asks if he knows who he is talking to, a huge smile spreads across his face as he replies “Iron Man.”

In collaboration with Microsoft and Limbitless Solutions, the volunteer-driven organization started by Manero that develops open-source 3D printed bionic arms for those in need, Manero and fellow engineering students from the University of Central Florida came up with an electronically wired model that is fully capable of movement thanks to sensors and tiny embedded motors that respond to Alex’s upper-arm muscles. Functionality aside, the fact that it is red and gold, with Iron Man’s signature blue-light covering the palm, only makes it that much cooler.

3D printed prosthetic limbs, such as those made by volunteer organizations like e-NABLE and Limbitless Solutions, can be manufactured for only a fraction of the price of traditional prosthesis. This makes them the ideal solution for children, who are constantly growing and need to replace their prosthetics quite often. According to Limbitless Solutions, bionic arms such as the one built for Alex take roughly 30-50 hours to print using their university’s 3D printer, and cost only $350 to manufacture. Those costs, however, were absorbed by the volunteers themselves, who solicited donations and pooled their coffee money to make Alex’s dream come true. “We were all bound to the belief that no one should profit from a child in need of an arm,” said Manero. In the near future, the company is hoping to develop open-source 3D printed legs and elbow joints.

“Albert made it so affordable,” said Downey. Never one to get out of character, he added: “I’m probably going to start farming out a lot of my tech work to Albert too.”

The heartwarming video was posted to Downey’s Facebook page in collaboration with The Collective Project, a social media campaign powered by Microsoft’s OneNote that celebrates students working together to improve the world. “Had the absolute privilege of presenting a brand spanking new 3D-printed bionic Iron Man arm to Alex, the most dapper 7-year old I’ve ever met,” posted Downey. “Special thanks to Albert Manero, OneNote, and #CollectiveProject for their work making artificial limbs like this more affordable for families with kids who want to show the playground how badass they are.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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