Aug. 19, 2014 | By Alec

The revolutionary potential of 3D printing is again emphasized by Jordan Nickerson, a computer science student at Portland Community College, Oregon. Nickerson himself was born without a left hand, but has spent most of his life without using a prosthetic, which are costly and 'one size fits all': 'The downside with the prosthetic industry is that, when I was a kid, the basic prosthetics were just hooks and they cost around $2,000 to $5,000. And you have to completely manipulate your body to use it. […] It's super complicated, really annoying and obnoxious to use. And plus it's a hook so it's kind of intimidating […].'

3D printing, however, can change all that. Nickerson is experiencing that for himself the past months, ever since someone introduced him to a design for a 3D-printed prosthetic hand. That original design, like others before it, did not exactly fit well but Nickerson was able to customize it for his own arm: 'I put my arm in the socket and I flex my wrist and the fingers close. All five fingers close at once to make a fist, but with a little bit of tensioning you can make it where the thumb and the index finger touch first so if you wanted to pick up something small, you can.'

However, it's potential doesn't stop at Nickerson's fingertips: due to the design's open-source nature and usage of cheap, plastic materials, prosthetics can be customized for anyone's personal needs and produced and distributed at affordable prices. 'If it works for me, it can work for anybody who has a little bit of wrist movement', Nickerson said. And all of that can, theoretically, be realised for a fraction of the costs of prosthetics currently for sale on the market.

Nickerson therefore intends to make his customizable prosthetic available for a wider audience, and is working to start a business together with fellow student Niko Hughes. Fittingly, they chose the name GRASP and they're already turning heads at fund-raising events and start-up challenges. They hope to have a marketable prosthetic available in early 2015. By this time next year a mobile app and website will be ready so people can use to customize and order the hands.

People would then be able to scan and measure their arms, after which 3D printers can produce custom prosthetics that perfectly suit anyone's disability. The cost to the customer Nickerson estimates would be $300 and if people buy one he'll donate another to an impoverished child who needs one.

The duo hopes that 3D-printed prosthetics can improve the lives of thousands of people, from children with birth defects to victims of war and disasters: 'A future goal is to go to places like Haiti after a disaster and start scanning people'.

"Eventually we want to try to reach everyone in the world," he added.

Instagram photo posted by Jordan Nickerson of himself holding a water bottle with a prosthetic hand.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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