Unfortunately there are no prosthetic limbs that can completely replicate the functionality of a real limb, so depending on the person it really isn’t uncommon for people missing limbs to have multiple prosthetic devices. Users often have their main limb for everyday use, a “fancy” limb that they would wear as more of an accessory, and then in some cases people have devices designed specifically for sports. Because these limbs typically cost thousands of dollars, standard prosthetics are often used in situations where a more specialized device would be helpful but the user can’t afford yet another custom limb.
But 3D printing technology could change all of that and allow people to quickly and inexpensively create prosthetic limbs for virtually any task that they can think of. For a young amputee named Logan, what he really wanted was a prosthetic that would just help him play basketball. Standard limbs aren’t generally built for sports like basketball; not only would it be difficult for the wearer to grip the ball, but dribbling would be awkward. A standard prosthetic wouldn’t be able to replicate the whipping motion that a real wrist provides while dribbling, so the user would be restricted to only a single arm.
But the team over at AIO Robotics, developer of the Zeus All in One 3D Printer, and a UCLA-based 3D printing club called 3D Printing For Everyone (3D4E) wanted to help Logan get on the court. The student engineers at 3D4E started working on the Spock hand, a customized version of the Raptor Reloaded prosthetic hand design developed by e-NABLE. Because it is one of the strongest and durable prosthetic designs from e-NABLE, the 3D4E team felt that the open source Raptor was the design that would be capable of surviving regular use on the basketball court.
“What we are trying to do is give the hand an athletic ability. Our goal is to make a bunch of these hands, invite the kids to campus and give them a daylong workshop with the [UCLA] women’s basketball team,” Brooke Zampell, bioengineering student and public relations chair for 3D4E, told the Daily Bruin.
Earlier in the year 3D4E had pitched the idea of the university’s women’s basketball team giving tips to young children wearing their first hands. The team has a long history of community involvement, so they were happy to help the student group out in any way that they could. Not only did the team like the idea, but they even helped plan a workshop that would teach an entire group of kids how to use their hands out on the court.
Last week the students finally brought Logan down to the UCLA campus to test out the current iteration of the hand, the last of several different versions. Logan’s “Spock” hand is a highly customized raptor design that has three fingers instead of four. Each finger has rubber grips on the tips to make it easier to grip on to the ball, and it also has a special design in the wrist that will simulate the needed whip motion, making it extremely easy to use to dribble a ball or shoot a basket. When Logan first put on the hand and tried it out it took him a few tries to get comfortable wearing the prosthetic device. But once he got going there was no stopping him and by the end of the day he had made 17 baskets.
The Spock variation of the Raptor hand has almost 30 individual parts that are held together with nylon wire and a few screws. All of the parts were 3D printed on the AIO Robotics Zeus in the 3D4E workshop and assembled by the entire group. The hand that Logan tried out is still a work in progress, and the team will take what they learned from this first trial run back into the workshop to help improve the design even further.
Here is a video of Logan trying out the Spock hand for the first time. You can keep tabs on the continuing development of the Spock over on 3D4E’s website here, and you can keep up to date on all of their activities on their Facebook page. Discuss further in the 3D Printed Spock Hand forum over at 3DPB.com.