One of the great things about open source technology is that it builds upon the expertise of a greater number of people and has the potential to create connections that might not have otherwise been possible. Portland Community College student, Jordan Nickerson, found just such a connection at a networking event this past April after speaking to someone who had developed a 3D printed hand prosthetic. Nickerson, who was born without a left-hand was interested in the prosthetic but found that it did not work to his liking. Because the designer had made their creation open source it was freely available online for Nickerson to modify.
“I automatically got intrigued with it. I was kind of listening in on this conversation and he [the designer] whipped out his phone. On it, I saw the picture and I just walked up to him and asked for it. And that is essentially how it all started. I saw an opportunity and decided to go with it.”
Like many others, Nickerson has tried a variety of prosthetics during the course of his lifetime. As a child, despite his parents’ efforts to get him to use a prosthetic, he found that he preferred to simply learn compensatory ways of performing daily activities. When he realized the potential provided by 3D printing technology to create a prosthetic that would be fully customizable, he took up the challenge. The fact that the plastic used in 3D printing is both lightweight and cheap meant that he could print, refine, and reprint in order to create a better prosthetic.
Nickerson, a student in computer sciences, quickly realized the potential that such an improved prosthetic held. He got in touch with Gregg Meyer, engineering faculty member and supervisor of Portland Community College’s MakerSpace. Meyer’s fluency with the lab’s nine 3D printers helped Nickerson realize his goal. It was then, that he paired up with his roommate, Niko Hughes, to plan a start up. Hughes, who is studying marketing and advertising management at Portland State University, said they wanted to move from thinking about it as a cool idea to something that had potential as a business venture.
They decided to name the business GRASP and wrote up a detailed business plan that landed them among 19 semifinalists in the Startup PDX Challenge sponsored by the Portland Development Commission. The winners of this challenge will receive a $15,000 capital grant, a year of free rent, and a number of other free services. The pair hopes to have a marketable prosthetic completed by January. They would continue to expand upon the customization aspect available through 3D printing by developing a mobile app and website that can be used by people to customize and order the hands.
Part of the business plan includes a charitable aspect. Nickerson hopes that for every hand that is ordered he will be able to donate one to an impoverished child in need of a hand prosthetic. Also Nickerson plans on creating both a website and a mobile application which will allow an individual missing a hand to take pictures of their arm and submit them in order to have a customized hand printed. The cost of the prosthetic that he is developing is approximately $300. This is a great improvement in price over others which are often less functional. Nickerson remembers the prosthetics he rejected as a child:
“If you can afford to buy an Xbox you can afford to buy this hand. The downside with the prosthetic industry is that, when I was a kid, the basic prosthetics were just hooks and they cost around $2000-$5000. And you have to completely manipulate your body to use it. You have to move your shoulder back, throw your elbow forward, and it then opens. It’s super complicated, really annoying and of noxious to use. And plus it’s a hook so it’s kind of intimidating especially when you’re a child. With this one, it works with your natural body movement. It works on your wrist motion. Since it’s 3D printed it’s extremely lightweight and customizable to that person.”
So far, while he has not worked out all of the kinks, he is thrilled with the support that he has received from Portland Community College’s MakerSpace as he advances his design. You can stay informed on Nickerson’s startup here. Discuss Nickerson’s idea and business plan in the GRASP 3D printed prosthetic forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below with Nickerson explaining his basic business plan.
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