Scott: Advances in technology usually help make life a little simpler. But for one student born with an under developed hand, a 3D printer made all the difference. Keith Kocinski takes a closer look.
Keith: Grabbing a backpack is hardly the work of a superhero, unless you are 12-year-old Leon McCarthy and your hand looks like it is straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Leon McCarthy: Cyborg! It’s, like, special instead of different.
Keith: Leon has been special since birth. While he was still in the womb, restricted blood flow prevented his hand from developing.
Paul McCarthy: I saw his hand sticking up and there were no fingers on it. It was hard for my wife. It was hard for me.
Keith: Two years ago, Leon’s father, Paul, began the search for an inexpensive, functional prosthetic, which is an artificial device that replaces a body part. He found this internet video posted by Ivan Owen, an inventor in Washington state.
Ivan Owen: I’ve always had this vision of people being able to build their own prosthetic device at home.
Keith: Owen and a partner in South Africa designed a mechanical hand that can be made by a 3-dimensional printer.
Owen: It’s essentially like a hot glue gun. There’s plastic that feeds into it. The printer head gets really hot and liquefies that plastic, and then layer-by-layer it creates an object.
Keith: This design relies on wrist movement. Downward motion creates cable tension that closes the fingers, while a move upwards opens them. The assembly instructions were posted for free on the internet so someone like Paul McCarthy, all the way in Marblehead, Massachusetts, could print it. He took the idea to his son.
Leon: I thought he was a little crazy. He was like, ‘We can print all these fingers and then, like, clip them all in.’ And it was a little too much.
Keith: And the first time he tried it…
Leon: It was pretty awesome. I could pick up, say, a water bottle. Like, say, I could pick up my pencil.
Keith: This technology could be an affordable solution for many. In the United States, approximately 1.7 million people are living with limb loss. And like Leon’s case, out of every 100,000 births, 26 babies are born with either partial or malformed limbs.
Prosthetics, like the one Leon needs, can run anywhere from $20,000 – $30,000, so the price tag was also a big win. Many 3D printers sell for about $2,000, and the cost of materials isn’t much either.
Paul: This thing costs us, like, $5, $10. You know, whatever. It was nothing.
Keith: The cost allows them to experiment with newer designs.
Leon: When I outgrow a hand, we can easily make a new one.
Keith: It is a do-it-yourself solution that was unthinkable before technology made ideas printable.
Keith Kocinski, Channel One News.