July 21, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve previously seen just how much of an impact 3D printing can have in the design, development and ultimately, production of low-cost prosthetic devices, a new generation of designers, makers and engineers are committed to raising the bar and have been actively developing highly-advanced robotic prosthetics that are capable of intelligently assisting a wearer with common limb movements.  

Among others who have been focusing their efforts on highly-advanced robotic hand prosthetics include a team of inspired individuals with design, engineering, manufacturing and medical backgrounds who are focusing their efforts on developing the world's first public domain medical grade myoelectric prosthesis starting with a custom design for a recent amputee from Spring, Texas, named Ryan Cashman.  Ryan tragically lost his hands in an oil rig accident and is the older brother of team organizer Matt.

Currently, existing medical grade myoelectric prosthetic devices such as the i-limb from Touch Bionics can cost anywhere from $38,000 to more than $120,000 depending on the level of customization required.  Because Ryan requires prosthetics for both of his hands, it becomes clear how he and others in need of the devices could benefit from a public domain device.   

“During our research, we discovered the i-limb ultra revolution and i-limb digits – smartphone operated hand prosthesis, perfect for Ryan’s needs,” explains development team member Cameron Norris of Wevolver.  “The problem is the i-limb costs anywhere from $38,000 to more than $120,000 depending on the level of customization required, and Ryan would need two of them. This discovery represented an important benchmark and we decided to crowd-source the development of a prosthesis with the same level of quality and functionality as the i-limb to release as open source - making the technology available to everybody.”

Inspired to help his older brother be able to lift weights again, Matt’s initial plan was to build a custom HACKberry from Wevolver that would be printed from materials that focus on lightness, strength and durability - such as aluminum-filled PLA.  The HACKberry is an open source 3D printable myoelectric prosthetic arm created by Genta Kondo, Hiroshi Yamaura and Tetsuya Konishi of exiii Inc, a Japanese robotics company based in Tokyo that specializes in bionic arms.

exiii team

Upon publishing a post aimed at crowdsourcing a team of experts using Reddit’s r/Fitness community board, one of the first Redditors to join the project team was a hand surgeon from Melbourne, Australia named Neela Janakiramanan.  Neela, whose own interest in prosthetics comes from both her direct medical experience and the realization of the limitations on what hand surgeons could actually achieve, also works at the hospital unit responsible for the first successful hand transplant in Australia.

According to Neela, many health interventions - such as some prosthetic hands - are founded with good intent but ultimately fail to have a health impact because they’re not implemented systematically - or with a pre-planned assessment methodology.  

Neela, along with Norris and a team of dedicated professionals and interns, began the process of developing a HACKberry that was durable enough for weightlifting soon after.  

“The plan was for the interns to explore how we could use 3D printers to make HACKberry parts that could withstand the demands of weight lifting,” explained Cameron.  

“I barely slept for a week (it took me seven days to build it) – in fact, on the final night I didn’t sleep at all. But by Wednesday morning on 8th July, I’d hacked together a working bionic arm. exiii (the creators of the bionic arm) even emailed me to say they had seen a video of my new HACKberry on Facebook – it was the first time in the world that someone had actually built one from their designs and they were as excited about it as I was.”

Since producing the first iteration, Cameron, Matt and the rest of the team have been updating their project status on Reddit.  Additionally, they are continuing their search for team members who might be able to assist in the design, engineering and manufacturing of the arm.  Thanks to Neela’s guidance, the team has been able to refine the design based on true anatomical details.  

“The days following the Reddit update our team of volunteers got to work sharing designs and ideas,” said Norris.   

“We also decided that in addition to refining the HACKberry under Neela’s guidance, we would build Ryan a dedicated weightlifting prosthetics using Kevlar and Carbon Fiber – including a built-in digital rep counter capable of linking to Ryan’s smartphone via BlueTooth to record his workout performance.”

To follow along with Cameron’s updates on the projects - or perhaps even lend your own expertise to the project - be sure to head over to the project’s dedicated (and regularly updated) Reddit post from Matt.  

“If you’re interested in getting involved with prosthetics, with 3D printed robots, you just do it. A lot of people seem to be looking for permission to get involved, and it’s not like that, it’s always completely open,” added Norris.  


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive