From an incredibly inspirational story of human perseverance comes a project that is enormously positive and works as a comprehensive demonstration of how 3D printing is improving the quality of people’s lives. Airwolf 3D, headquartered in Costa Mesa, CA, is getting ready to make history with hands.
Partnering with Robohand USA, Airwolf is coordinating the first 3D Print-a-Thon and International Flash Print, where they, and many others both locally and internationally, will be engaging an army of 3D printers to make prosthetic hands — Robohands. Not only will a record be made, but hundreds of lives will be changed in the process, as volunteers come together to print the open source design of the prosthetics.
On the evening of Friday, December 12th, the project begins, with volunteers gearing up for a full nonstop 24 hours of 3D printing. Individuals with their own 3D printers are invited to come to Airwolf’s Costa Mesa headquarters, with their own 3D printers in tow, to join in on Saturday the 13th. With a current record of 102 printers, the goal is, between all of the volunteers and Airwolf, to break the world record of simultaneous 3D printing in one spot.
“When we looked at this project we realized it was a perfect fit with what we do. The high speed, high materials capabilities of our printers make us uniquely suited for the demands of this type of work,” said Erick Wolf, cofounder and chairman of Airwolf 3D. “We are not making toys, but real, functional prosthetics that require lightweight, durable materials. We want a child using one of these hands to be able to be able to play without worrying about it breaking.”
When the project for Robohand started out, children or other people were not even in the equation. It was about Richard Van As, a South African, who was waiting in the emergency room after cutting off the fingers on his right hand during a major woodworking mishap. He began visualizing a solution for himself before he’d even been treated.
A rare number of special people are driven by trying to break barriers and do what many perceive to be impossible. Not only is this what Airwolf is working to do, but it’s how Robohand USA was created. In looking for engineering and design assistance for the original prosthetic design, Van As was turned away time and time again, with words of negativity and the general consensus that his plan for making prosthetic fingers (much less a hand) was impossible. He persevered in his idea for a prosthetic that was ‘trade friendly’ for someone like himself, who needed use of his hands and fingers to engage in woodworking.
He also did not see anything on the market that was going to return functionality to his hand after losing his fingers. In collaborating with Ivan Owen of the US, Van As was able to see his design come to fruition due to Owen’s experience in developing mechanical special effect props. Together, they began experimenting with 3D printing of the prosthetics using two donated MakerBot 3D printers. While the project began with simply restoring functionality to Van As, soon he began speaking with other people, and parents, who were interested in items such as full hand prosthetics, which turned out to be their central design.
Owen and Van As were able to create open source designs and with the donated MakerBot printers, they produced their first functional prototype in 2013. The hands are 3D printed and aluminum CNC machined. As an alternative prosthetic, they are particularly beneficial to children in that as they grow, the digital designs can be tweaked and another prosthetic can quickly be 3D printed.
The devices are made specifically for each individual and do not require any invasive medical procedures like surgery. Robohands rely on existing joints for manipulation of the prosthetics, like the wrist, and do not require batteries or motorized power.
Robohand, nominated for the Rockefeller Innovators Award, has been the subject of numerous articles, TV and radio interviews, and also has been featured in exhibits in in the Science Museum of London and the Youngstown Museum. They have now fitted hundreds of hands for very grateful recipients all around the world, who never imagined they could have such functionality restored, nor so easily and quickly.
In keeping with Robohand’s international presence and impact, Airwolf 3D is also responsible for the first international Flash Print. Makers across the world will be able to participate along with the December 13th 3D Print-a-Thon with access to the design to be 3D printed in ABS and then sent to Robohand.
Airwolf 3D is a perfect fit with the Robohand mission, as they endeavor to bring affordable 3D printing to everyone, hoping to inspire creativity at the advanced levels, all the way down to the student level, introducing young people to a technology that can create items they never thought possible. Inspired by the RepRap community, the Airwolf 3D printers are meant to provide speed and accuracy, a large build platform (with the AW3D HD series), and a wide range of materials for 3D printing, with 22 materials currently compatible. With the motto that they are ‘always pushing, always climbing,’ we certainly look forward to reporting on the success of their Print-a-Thon, as well as future products and materials.
Are you interested in helping with the Print-a-Thon but don’t yet have a 3D printer? With a donation of $25, Airwolf 3D will put your funds toward the price of filament and 3D print five Robohands for you, with your name attached to production of those pieces. This is a great opportunity to get involved in an amazing event that will be producing items that help people day in, day out. You can even join in by 3D printing from the comfort of your own home.
“This is the first time in history that such a movement is possible,” said Tyler Caros, creative director of Airwolf 3D. “We are uniting people the world over to work toward this common goal, and it is this technology that makes it possible. With five dollars of materials and a few hours you can dramatically change someone’s life. You can sit in your home thousands of miles away, click print, and create a tangible object that will open up an entirely new world to someone. It is thrilling.”
For more information on getting involved in the 3D Print-a-Thon and to RSVP for the event, click here.
Is the 3D Print-a-Thon or the international Flash Print something you are going to get involved in? How do you see the 3D printed Robohand changing the world of prosthetics? Share your thoughts with us in the Airwolf 3D Print-a-Thon for Prosthetic Hands forum over at 3DPB.com.
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