UAlbany Uses 3D Technology to Create Prosthetic Hands for Children

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 17, 2015) -- Elliott Weintraub, a University at Albany computer science student, is hoping to pursue a career in 3D printing or robotics. So when he heard about the opportunity to build a prosthetic hand for a child using 3D technology last semester, he jumped at the chance to volunteer.

Photo gallery: Department of Informatics Lends a 3D Hand for Kids

UAlbany’s Department of Informatics started the project during Fall '14 and ramped up significantly to complete hands for four children by the holidays. Professor Jennifer Goodall and her colleagues became intrigued by the project after meeting representatives from e-NABLE, an organization that coordinates the families, at the World Maker Faire in New York.

UAlbany Students Create 3D Hands for Children
A College of Computing and Information student assembles a 3D prosthetic hand in the "Makerspace" room in the Department of Informatics. (Photo by Paul Miller)

“Our organization began in spring 2013 because we had this wacky idea that volunteers with 3D printers all over the world would leap at the opportunity to make free prosthetic hands for children,” said Jon Schull, founder of e-NABLE and a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He estimates that volunteers have created about 1,000 hands for 700 individuals to date.

For children who are born missing a hand, receiving a cool-looking prosthetic in the colors of their favorite superhero is often not an option through regular means. Prosthetics, which ordinarily cost thousands of dollars, are usually purchased for adults, not children, because children outgrow them so quickly.

WRGB-TV: UAlbany printing robotic hands for kids

“I love to create and build things,” said Weintraub, a sophomore from Ardsley, N.Y. “I helped put together a child’s prototype hand and prosthetic hand.”

The hands took between four and six hours each to complete, but there were a lot of glitches along the way. At points during the project, it was a 24/7 production involving 3D printers in multiple cities, expedited shipping of the parts, and a “handathon” to assemble the hands.

“I would definitely volunteer again for another project and I am already trying to learn more about robotic prosthetic hands,” Weintraub added. “This is definitely a unique opportunity that you may not have at another school.”

Originally planned as a one-time volunteer event, the project took on a life of its own with an estimated 50 volunteers and about 1,000 hours.

Each hand cost about $50 for parts and filament. When Capital Region businesses heard about the project, they were quick to donate materials. Lowes donated some of the special screws needed, while Schenectady, NY-based, miSci (Museum of Innovation and Science) and Troy, NY-based, 1st Playable, loaned their 3D printers; and Clifton Park, NY-based Kitware printed additional parts. Students, faculty, and alumni donated funds.

The hands were shipped just in time for the holidays. The volunteers are currently working with the families on an ongoing basis, to retrofit the hands and customize them as needed. There are two adults also awaiting hands from UAlbany’s informatics department.

“As part of phase 2, we realized that we can’t print all the parts, so we talked to some folks at Google and they’ve enlisted 12 volunteers who will print for us,” said Goodall. “And since we are still working with the families, we have integrated the redesigns into a few different classes.”

“This project was so rewarding,” said Weintraub. “I was able to learn a lot about 3D printing and 3D prosthetics and I was able to help a child who didn’t have a hand.”

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