At five years-old, most kids are joyfully immersed in exploring the world via hands-on play. Swinging across the monkey bars and learning how to cut food with a fork and knife are normal activities most kindergartners can easily achieve — but such accomplishments were not possible for Liam, who was born without any fingers on his right hand. Whole-hand prosthesis are far from perfected, and even the primitive hook-like replacements are quite expensive. Without the amazing connective powers of the internet, Liam might have had to spend his entire childhood without the use of both of his hands. But thanks to two internet collaborators, the miracle of 3D printing, and the growing trend of online crowdfunding, Liam now has a ‘Robohand.’

Ivan Owen is an amateur mechanical engineer based in Bellingham, Washington and Richard Van As is a South African man who lost four fingers on his right hand in a 2011 woodworking accident. Just 10 years ago, these men would have no way of meeting or learning each others stories, much less collaborating on a project that could permanently change others’ lives. But thanks to the Internet, in December 2011, Van As saw a YouTube video of a huge mechanical hand that Owen had built for fun. Immediately inspired by the project, Van As reached out to Owen and the two spent a year exchanging designs and comments electronically. According to The Guardian, “the process of exchanging design ideas was made significantly easier and cheaper because the pair used MakerBot 3D printers to send plans back and forth.”

Finally, the two ingenious innovators decided to meet and make their dream of an affordable, open-source prosthetic hand a reality. In early January 2013, Van As and Owen announced that they were putting the finishing touches on their finger-replacement design. Thanks to generous donations from the internet community and MakerBot, they decided young Liam would receive the first 3D printed hand prosthesis.

It only took a couple of days for the young boy to adjust to his new Robohand, as evidenced in the video above. Within a week, Liam was able to use his new fingers to do everything a human hand can do, including throwing balls and picking up coins. But this heartwarming story doesn’t end with Liam.

Van As and Owen have  made their design, which has the potential to help thousands of people, available for free on the internet. “Our vision is to make this available for people and locations where there’s no infrastructure present,” Owen told NBC News. Using lightweight materials and a 3D printer, anyone can create their own Robohand for less than $150… a far cry from the $10,000 Van As was quoted at the time of his accident.

The Robohand design is now available for free on Thingiverse. For more information about the the project’s progress and how you can support it, visit the designer’s website.

+ Robohand Blog

via The Guardian

Images and Video © Ivan Owen