Print Your Prosthetic at Home

The Defense Department has made major advances in prosthetics over the last dozen years, to the point where it is beginning to work with artificial legs and arms that function via natural command on the brain.

The consumer market may not be there yet, but it is also advancing in the area of prosthetic hands – to the point where fully-functional, five-digit hands are being manufactured at home using 3D printers.

The hand was the culmination of collaboration between an inventor in Washington and a South African carpenter who had cut off four fingers from his right hand in a work accident. MakerBot, a manufacturer of 3D printers, includes a video with interviews with both men on its website.

Ivan Owen had a background in movie special effects, including a robotic hand seen in 2012 by Richard Van As of South Africa. Van As contacted him and the two began collaborating. The so-called Robohand project got a boost when MakerBot, a manufacturer of 3D printers, heard about it and provided each man with one of its machines.

Through the months of design, trial-and-error and redesign – with the men able to immediately turn their ideas into identical working models – they came up with a useful, inexpensive prosthetic hand that Van As was able to produce right at home. A simple movement of the wrist enables the wearer to open and close the fingers and thumb.

The only other parts, thin cables and some screws and bolts, can be picked up at any hardware store; MakerBot estimates the total cost of a hand made using its Replicator 2 machine at about $150.

One reason it is not expensive is that Owen has given the invention away by sharing the design files and instructions on Thingverse, an online community set up by MakerBot for help people discover, develop and share 3D printable products.

According to MakerBot, the 3D design files have been downloaded by people around the world.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • oblatt2

    Home made prosthetics is the wave of the future since a lot of the money now spent on veterans will be increasingly shifted across to support defense contractors.

    Those with traumatic brain injuries due to IEDs aren’t so lucky and will probably end up on the streets.

  • Lance

    We keep getting closer to the Skywalker hand that’s cool.

  • d. kellogg

    And just as cool is the fact that neither of these men were motivated by profit, not even demanding royalties or IP rights for their idea, but that such advancement should be for the betterment of all suffering from hand injuries.
    Medical research facilities everywhere who’ve invested fortunes into prosthetics develpment almost screamed bloody murder when this was initially announced some time ago.
    The corporate moneylusters are swearing under their breath that it isn’t right that anyone should have the audacity to give away for nearly free what corporations feel they should be charging a fortune for.
    Let the 3D printing rennaissance of the 21st century begin.

    • blight_

      Indeed, think of the profit the early pioneers in computing gave up by not going for royalties. Or Salk in giving up royalties on polio vax. In corporate dividendland, these are insufficiently selfish suckers.

      Glad people are altruistic enough to give blueprints away.

  • tmb2

    A few short years from now you’ll probably be able to go into an orthopedic clinic where your shoe inserts and another guy’s prosthetic foot or hand are made in the same office.

  • Big-B

    Very good news

  • purpleheartpark

    I wanna Hulk Hand….

  • Dfens

    Oh look, NASA is planning on using this technology to build homes on the Moon for China’s astronauts:…. Remember back in the 1960’s when we could send men to the Moon? Hell, now we can’t even get them to low earth orbit without hiring a ride from Russia. It’s a damn good thing NASA stopped designing their own rockets and outsourced that to defense contractors. It’s unfortunate we’re too smart now to go back to what worked, like maybe having a person who has designed rockets before design our next rocket. I guess experience is the best teacher unless you design rockets or airplanes. Those designs you just pull out of your ass.

  • Doc

    Have they develop a neural mapping system program so that the prosthetic be calibrated to the human body?