Cool Sci-Fi Future Is Nigh: Dad Builds Son 3-D Printed Prosthetic Hand for $10


Shirking $30,000 in medical fees for a traditional prosthetic hand, videographer Paul McCarthy built a multi-colored "Robohand" for his son using a friend's 3-D printer. McCarthy says he spent, "Five, maybe, ten bucks."


The boy, 12-year-old Leon McCarthy, was born without fingers on his left hand. Once he turned ten, Paul started searching for an inexpensive and functional prosthetic alternative.

What he found changed his son's life. A YouTube video by Washington-based special effects artist and puppeteer, Ivan Owen, shows the results of the artist's collaborative effort to build a Robohand for a disabled boy in South Africa. Like McCarthy, Owen was not an engineer, computer scientist, or doctor. However, he was passionate about helping to develop affordable, DIY prosthetics. In an interview with CBS News, Owen said:

I've always had this vision of people being able to build their own prosthetic device at home.

To help him accomplish this goal, MakerBot, a firm that produces 3-D printing equipment, offered Owen and his South African design partner, Richard Van As, free printers. From there, Owen and Van As honed the Robohand and posted the design and instructions for free download on Thingiverse, a website for sharing digital designs.

According to NPR, once the McCarthy's discovered Owens' video and the Robohand instructions, they decided to make one for Leon:

Printing the parts (using a friend's borrowed 3-D printer) was easy, the two say. But it took them a month to figure out how to string, screw and bolt together what they describe as the "Frankenstein" version. It's still a work in progress, they say, but several weeks ago, Leon wore it to school for a tryout.

"I'm able to hold a pencil and piece of paper," Leon says. "I've done a lot more than I ever thought I could, so it's opened up a lot of new doors in my life."

Van As is now raising money through a crowdfunding site to build more Robohands for disabled children at no cost to their families. In the meantime, the latest version of Robohand is available for free download – and the materials cost just $5.

While many are lauding these developments as an awesome way to revolutionize healthcare and DIY projects, some are concerned that lobbyists and politicians may try to stop their proliferation. In Forbes:

Because a 3D printer can make perfect replicas of many kinds of object, manufacturers may seek to brand it a "piracy machine" and demand additional measures to protect their traditional way of doing business. Mr Weinberg worries that they may behave rather like the record industry did when its own business model—based on selling pricey CD albums that few music fans wanted, instead of cheap single tracks they craved—came under attack from Napster and other file-swapping networks.

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  1. That is awesome.

    1. In the future, everything will be free. Except the 3D printer toner.

  2. So now we just start counting down to the day that the kid gets expelled for bringing a weapon to school.

    1. How do you think the kid lost his hand to start with?

      Point your hand like a gun at a cop in a school, lose your hand buddy. Gotta keep em in line.

    2. He won't need to bring one. He'll print one out using the 3D-printing app of his smart phone.

  3. The Cool Future is not here unless a transwarp drive is invented that will turn humans into giant horny salamanders.

  4. So how long until the FDA sues for distributing unapproved medical devices?

    1. Isn't the tax on this about $2, for now? Don't worry, the Congress will "fix" that right away.

    2. Oh yea, forgot all the other crap you have to do in order to become "approved." I wonder where the Obama pricing board will set the floor? It is going to be like pressing a pair of pants in the 1930s.

    3. Probably about as long as it takes me to tell the FDA to go fuck themselves.

    4. That's what I was thinking.

  5. So it is $10 as long as you don't count the manufacturing equipment.

    1. Capital costs per unit don't drive up the price too much, especially on borrowed/rented/donated equipment.

      1. Yea, but it is like saying I made my new baseball bat for $2 and not counting the lathe.

        1. If you bought the lathe for the specific purpose of making one bat, then you have to include the cost of the material, the time and the lathe when figuring out the total cost of the good. However, if you bought the lathe for other purposes besides making A bat, then you would be in error if you added the cost of the machine as part of the cost of production for your bat. Same with the mechanical hand and the 3D printer.

          Another example: If you buy a car so you can go run errands, you would be in error if you added the book value of the car to the amount you paid for the groceries at the store as a way to figure out the total cost of your groceries. You can include the running costs for your car but not the car itself UNLESS you intended to immediately discard the car once the groceries were purchased and brought back home.

          1. If you're going to add it all up that way you may as well throw in some dollars for all the hours you spent learning woodworking and how to use a lathe.

            And a royalty for the baseball bat inventor's inheritor so he doesn't sue.

    2. Yeah, just like a car is x amount of dollars if you don't count the millions worth of machinery the manufacturer used to make the car.

      This is the most retarded "logic" I've seen in a while.

  6. I figure the bureaucracy will be shutting this guy down because OMG unapproved medical device.

    1. "Nice robot hand you got there sir, be a shame if anything happened to it..."

      1. "Not really, I'll just make another one."

  7. Shirking $30,000 in medical fees for a traditional prosthetic hand, videographer Paul McCarthy built a multi-colored "Robohand" for his twelve-year-old son using a friend's 3-D printer. McCarthy says he spent, "Five, maybe, ten bucks."

    Cue series of NPR concern stories about unregulated, unlicensed medical devices being created without proper oversight.

    1. If you do something outside the collective's duly appointed representatives' oversight, you threaten the collective.

  8. None of this would have been possible without ObamaCare.

    1. "If Leon likes his prosthetic hand, he can keep it."

      1. 3 years later...

        "Unless his evil, mean, greedy capitalist father takes it away from him for failing to meet government guidelines."

      2. "If Leon likes his prosthetic hand, he can keep it."

        3 years later:

        "That was a cut-rate hand anyways. Basically, what I meant was, if you have what I say is a good hand you can keep it."

    2. "You didn't build that!"

      Yeah, but the 3D printer did.

  9. Nice. He should do a big lobster claw for special occasions.

    1. Or one with much bigger fingers for when he starts dating.

      1. That vibrate.

      2. I think you misspelled "tentacles", P.

        1. Have you been watching Bourdain in Japan?

          1. That was messed up. Seriously. Messed. Up.

          2. Most awesome Bourdain show ever!

  10. I can see the very reasonable and sane argument that a manufacturer of a 3D printer should ensure that the printer cannot self replicate. And despite RepRap and various attacks on that problem, one still has to be able to create the circuitry et al.

    The only other way this gets guilded up is if the government steps into things and outlaws shop class. Or requires 12 years of college and a professional license to use tools.

    1. Or requires 12 years of college and a professional license to use tools.

      You jest, but I see this coming about a lot sooner than you think.

      1. I do jest. In all reality it would be 1 or 2 years of schooling, a professional test, and a government license that requires you to submit to announced searches of your property whenever the government feels like it.

        1. I assume you mean unannounced searches.

          1. No, they always announce it after they come in the window.

    2. The circuitry behind one isn't that hard. Control 3 motors (and a few more to rotate the print head, if you want). Control a heater, and a feeder motor.

      Say 10 devices at the outside, and a few sensors. Toss a raspberry pi at it, simple.

      The controls can all be software. Open source, so there isn't any controls on what it can print.

      1. Yeah. It's basically those robotic arms we used to have to program in middle school.

  11. I can see the very reasonable and sane argument that a manufacturer of a 3D printer should ensure that the printer cannot self replicate.

    I can see a manufacturer deciding to do that for business reasons, but I can't see the "should" outside of that context.

    1. If complex enough, it will eventually mutate around this restriction and breed like bunnies. We'll be up to our necks in 3-D printers.

      1. Not that there's anything wrong with that..

  12. My Uncle Thomas recently got a nice six month old Infiniti M Hybrid just by part-time work from a macbook... you could try these out...

    1. Really? You have an Uncle Tom? And your name is Mary Jane? And who wants a six month old Infiniti hybrid?

  13. A decent hook costs more than $10.

  14. Dude thats like totally cool man, WOw.

  15. With the right sensors, this would also be seriously cook for dental prostheses. So of course that will also alienate another power-group. Theoretically, given an (age/physiogamy/etc.) computer model, which computer models already exist for animation by the way in, it could be readily adapted to doing the whole range of prostheses even incorporating existing mechanical/electronic devices. Interesting and yet another reason to squash this now.

    Lastly, with the home bioengineering thang coming up now, there's a whole bunch maker tech to ban!

    1. Also, DIY brackets for altering tooth alignment are already being worked on.

      Looks like with a little bit of research, effort, and specialty plastic, I can save the $5,000 that "Invisalign" costs, on average.

      My home bio lab is next on the list.

  16. Countdown to government involvement?

    1. They're pretty much getting their feet wet as it is with regards to 3-d printing, I thought.

      The key difference here is the fact that millions of 3-d printers don't already exist in homes across the world.

  17. Obama will just tell him that his $10 hand isn't a real prosthetic hand and insist that he purchase the $30K one. As for the printer, the MakerBot model is a Fisher Price toy, according to Obama. His Dad will be required to purchase a commercial $150K model.

  18. I have ABS damaged limbs. Now I am thinking that I want to have 6 fingers on my right hand, since Igino Montoya is too old now to complain about that. Wow a right hand would be nice.

    1. An affordable lower assembly and pseudofoot for my left leg would also be nifty. One that has no knee support and no high tech foot goodness so I can ride a bike or work a clutch without any tech in my way. This is a $10k wish and I never acted on it, even though someone else would have to pay for it, because I've never been confident that I really would ride the bike. But for $1k, I would have to have one.

  19. I just served on a civil trial jury, in which $2M was sought for a similarly disabled boy to provide him with prostheses for a life that was expected by economists and actuaries to last for another 70 years. I am interested to see that restricted blood flow during pregnancy was seen as the culprit in Leon's case. Evidence presented to us indicated that "nobody knew" why the lower forearm and hand did not develop in the case we heard. Prostheses for this child were estimated at $20K-30K per throw. It is encouraging to think that technology may bring this price down by as much as 1000x in the not-too-distant future -- assuming the FDA and vested interests in the prosthetic community do not get in the way.

  20. Shirking $30,000 in medical fees for a traditional prosthetic hand...

    shirk at

    What is wanted is a sense of avoid, not of evade as it usually applies to work, duty, or responsibility.

    1. Sounds like they are letting the interns use the thesaurus.

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