Most likely you have heard of Enabling the Future, or e-NABLE. They are the volunteer network responsible for helping thousands of children missing hands or part of their arms receive free, 3D printed prosthetic devices. The roots of e-NABLE began when a prop maker from the US and a carpenter from South Africa came together to create an articulated prosthetic hand device for a young boy named Liam. Rather than requiring motors and sensors to move the fingers, the design actually uses Liam’s own arm and wrist movements to close the fingers allowing him to grip objects. The pair called Liam’s prosthetic the Robohand and released their design to the open source community so anyone can build one. It was designed to be easy to assemble and cheap to produce so new hands could easily be created for him as he grew up.
Their prosthetic design was a device so simple that it bordered on genius and inspired thousands of people to help produce prosthetic hands for any child who needed one. Makers, engineers, 3D printing enthusiasts, physical therapists, educators, designers, parents, families, artists, and students from all over the world formed a network of dedicated volunteers who donate their time to print, assemble, and even redesign and modify prosthetic hands for kids in need. They even donate their time to teach parents how to make their own prosthetic hands, so they can buy a 3D printer and replace any broken parts or scale the design up as their child ages.
One of those tireless volunteers is Aaron Brown, who has been creating superhero-themed prosthetic hands for almost two years. Almost from the beginning he was making his colorful, comic book hands, much to the delight of the children that he was helping. You might have seen his Wolverine themed hand prosthetic that included tiny, kid-sized Wolverine claws. Brown even received the blessing of Marvel itself when they asked him to be part of a charity event for their Marvel Universe LIVE! show. The show flew Brown and a group of e-NABLE’s best builders down to Dallas where the cast and crew helped them assemble hands for several pint-sized superheroes. The event was so successful that Marvel Universe LIVE! has made the assembly of superhero themed prosthetic hands a regular part of their travelling show.
“I have done dozens of other superhero themed hands since [the Wolverine hand], and have inspired countless other designers and volunteers to take on themes and accessories for 3D printed prosthetics. It’s so great to see such amazing creativity coming out of a group that is nothing but volunteers, working tirelessly from the goodness of their hearts. It leaves me in awe sometimes, and I am truly blessed to be part of such an amazing group of people,” Brown told Techcrunch recently.
Recently Brown decided to open up his own 3D printing shop, which happens to be the only 3D printing shop in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He uses his new shop, called AxisLab 3D Printing, to offer his community 3D printer and material sales, instructional classes, and 3D printing and rapid prototyping services. Brown continues to work closely with e-NABLE to help develop new 3D printed prosthetic designs and technology.
“The future of 3D printed prosthetics is an exciting thing to think about. Things are improving, and changing on a daily basis, you never know what to expect. As of today e-NABLE is officially & legally a 501(c)3 Non-Profit!! And on top of that, just last week was awarded a $600,000 grant from Google. This opens the doors to so much potential, it’s incredible. We have teams working on low profile exoskeleton systems for children with limited mobility, groups working on sensor controlled robotics, technology teams focusing on scanning and measurement applications, web and mobile apps, the list truly goes on and on,” Brown continued.
Year to date Brown has already produced more than forty prosthetic devices for children, and they were provided to them absolutely free. He has even set up a full time e-NABLE service center capable of constructing or repairing 3D printed prosthetic hands.
Are you part of the e-NABLE network, or have you had them construct a prosthetic device for you? Tell us all about your experiences over in our e-NABLE Volunteers Making 3D Printable Prostheses for Children forum thread at 3DPB.com.