While 3D printed prosthetics are good at helping people complete simple tasks like holding a pen or opening a door, we’ve also seen some special 3D printed prostheses for use in activities like playing an instrument, running, or playing sports, like baseball. 7-year-old Hailey Dawson, who is missing the three middle fingers on her right hand, wants to show people that kids with handicaps like hers can still have great lives and enjoy normal activities. You may ask how exactly she plans to do this, and the answer is pretty interesting – by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for every Major League Baseball (MLB) game.

Dawson, who will soon begin second grade in Nevada, was born with a rare disease called Poland Syndrome, which causes birth defects, like her missing fingers, in one out of every 200,000 births. But she doesn’t let that hold her back – friends and family say that she unabashedly gives high fives and waves to people with that hand, and doesn’t try to hide it. She tries tasks on her own with her right hand first, before switching to her non-dominant hand or asking for help.

[Image: Yong Dawson]

Her mom, Yong Dawson, said, “She has no fear. When she waves, she waves with her little hand. When kids want to hold her hand, that’s the hand she pulls out. She has no care about what other people think. When people ask her, she says, ‘This is what I was born with. You were born with blue eyes, I was born with his hand. This is me.”

In order to prove that deformities like hers won’t slow kids down, and to raise awareness about Poland Syndrome, Dawson took that fearlessness to the pitcher’s mound, and was able to use a prosthetic hand to throw out the first pitch at a University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Rebels game a few years ago. The family has been working with researchers all over the world the last few years, and Dawson tested a number of prototype prosthetics before finding the perfect fit – coincidentally, scientists at UNLV built the 3D printed hand she uses to pitch with today.

She has a total of six different prosthetic hands, all of which have five fingers that are controlled and held together with fishing line. Each hand has a different design for a different purpose – Dawson even has a white presidential hand that she wore when she toured the White House and met former President Barack Obama.

Dr. Mohamed Trabia, a mechanical engineering professor and the associate dean for Research, Graduate Studies and Computing at UNLV, and Dr. Brendan O’Toole, chair of UNLV’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the College of Engineering’s Mendenhall Innovation Program, led the team that created her 3D printed pitching hand. With the help of students, and a sponsorship by AECOM, 3D printed prosthetic hands were created for Dawson and another young girl.

Hailey Dawson wears her hero Bryce Harper’s jersey [Image: Yong Dawson]

The fingers on Dawson’s pitching hand open and close as she flicks her wrist up and down. So as her fingers clasp around the ball when she winds up for the pitch, she starts the movement with her wrist in a down position. Then she lifts her wrist up, causing her fingers to loosen and release the ball as she forces her hand towards her target, which in this case is the catcher’s mitt. She adds the necessary power to her throw with a 30-pound weight.

Dawson has moved up in the ranks of baseball, going across the country to Maryland to throw out her first MLB pitch in 2015 at a Baltimore Orioles vs. Oakland Athletics game, and last month she got to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals vs. Texas Rangers game. She’s also met two famous Las Vegas natives: Kris Bryant, the third baseman for the Chicago Cubs, and her hero, Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper.

Dawson’s 3D printed hands from UNLV are especially helpful at building her confidence, and she hopes to throw out the first pitch for as many MLB games as she can; her mother says they currently have requests out to multiple teams.

“Maybe she can throw one out in every major league ballpark. That’s what I’m going to work on this summer,” Dawson told SportTechie.

In the meantime, UNLV is continuing to work on its 3D printed prosthetic hand project, searching open source websites like for new design ideas. At the moment, the team wants to find better ways to scale the designs, like increasing flexibility, to meet the demands of people who need the hands. Eventually, they may even make the hands motorized.

Dr. Brendan O’Toole

O’Toole explained, “Right now, the fingers clench when the user rotates their wrist. It’s a simple design and low cost. But that means every time you want to grab something you have to flex your wrist, so we’re looking at ways to add motors to improve functionality.”

Scientists and researchers are continuing to experiment with 3D printing technology in the medical field, and developing materials that are durable and work with the human body. Both Dr. Trabia and Dr. O’Toole predict that mechanical engineering will play a large role in biomechanics in the future.

For instance, 3D printed hands made out of lightweight metal materials would be far better in terms of a permanent prosthetic solution than plastic hands, and they could even feature components like chips and sensors one day. Dr. O’Toole said that the ability to 3D print with different types of metals is regarded as a “huge expansion area for design and 3D printing in general.”

Materials like titanium are already revolutionizing implants, and just last month, FDA clearance was granted for the first time to a 3D printed titanium implant for the sacroiliac joint. Hopefully someday soon, a person who needs a hip or knee replacement will be able to have an MRI scan, have their replacement custom-designed, and 3D printed at a lower cost.

Dr. Trabia said, “It will be built to fit you.”

Discuss in the 3D Printed Hand forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: SportTechie]





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