robohand, boy prosthetic handTechnology is supposed to improve our lives. Here's a perfect example of that.

The Robohand project is an open source -- that is, free -- system for creating prosthetic hands for adults and children who have suffered an amputation or were born with no fingers at all.

The creators are two online friends, Richard Van As and Ivan Owen. Van As, from South Africa, is a master carpenter who lost four fingers in an accident. Owen, who lives in Washington State in the U.S., was a props maker for movies who designed a mechanical alien hand and published photos of it online. Van As wondered if he could make a similar hand for a real person.

The pair began by working on models for a prosthetic hand that opens and closes its fingers when the user bends his or her wrist. This would allow the hand to be surprisingly cheap to build and it could be upgraded as the user grew using simple plastic parts. The two sent plans to each other over the Internet and worked on the project in their spare time. Then they both got MakerBot 3-D printers and told the company about their work.

MakerBots can make simple plastic parts by "drawing" them in three dimensions. The devices are great for prototyping objects and printing goofy things. And they're also useful for making inexpensive hardware. MakerBot donated two of its brand new printers to the inventors.

The project has now truly taken off, and the two men are building hands for amputees and kids with Amniotic Band Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes deformation of the hands in utero. Their invention has essentially given many children new hands for free.

It's rare to see a technology story that really warms the heart. This is one of them. You can see how Robohand works on Thingiverse, a storehouse for 3D models, and you can donate to the project's campaign. Or you can just marvel at how far we've come - and how much farther we can still go.

Do you know any children or adults who could benefit from this medical advancement?


Image via YouTube