3D print tech pro­vides ‘robohand’ to 7-year-old

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JOHN ROGERS

Seven- year- old Faith Len­nox never thought much about putting a pros­thetic limb where her miss­ing left hand had once been.

Not un­til the lit­tle girl learned she could de­sign her own, strap it on eas­ily and then jump on her bike and pedal away at speeds pre­vi­ously only imag­ined.

With fam­ily mem­bers oc­ca­sion­ally shout­ing “Be care­ful” and “Watch out for that car,” Faith firmly placed her new hand’s bright blue and pink fin­gers on her bike’s left han­dle­bar and took off for a seem­ingly end­less so­journ around the Build It Workspace on Tues­day morn­ing. In­side, just a short time be­fore, that hand had rolled off a 3D printer that built it overnight.

“I don’t think we’ll ever get her off it,” said her mother, Ni­cole, smil­ing with res­ig­na­tion as she watched her daugh­ter con­tinue to cir­cle the park­ing lot in this Or­ange County sub­urb.

The pros­thetic that had just made such a task im­me­di­ately easy rep­re­sents a break­through in small, light­weight hands that are eco­nom­i­cal and easy for chil­dren to use. It weighs only a pound and costs just US$50 to con­struct out of the same ma­te­ri­als used to make drones and au­to­mo­bile parts.

When Faith out­grows it in 6 months or a year, a re­place­ment can be made just as cheaply and eas­ily, said Mark Muller, a pros­thet­ics pro­fes­sor at Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity, Dominguez Hills, who helped with the de­sign. He said a heav­ier adult model with sen­sors at­tached to a per­son’s mus­cles would run US$15,000 to US$20,000.

Faith ma­nip­u­lates her hand with­out sen­sors. In­stead, as she hap­pily demon­strated over and over af­ter the bike ride, she moves her up­per arm back and forth.

That in turn opens and closes its blue and pink fin­gers “my fa­vorite colors,” she noted with a smile that she uses to grasp ob­jects like the fa­vored plush toy she brought with her.

The old­est of three chil­dren, Faith had com­part­ment syn­drome when her po­si­tion dur­ing child­birth cut off the flow of blood to her left fore­arm, ir­repara­bly dam­ag­ing tis­sue, mus­cle and bone. Af­ter 9 months of try­ing to save the limb, doc­tors determined they had to am­pu­tate just be­low the el­bow.

She had tried a cou­ple more tra­di­tional and more ex­pen­sive pros­thet­ics over the years but found them bulky, heavy and hard to use.

Her par­ents were work­ing with the non­profit group E-Nable to get her a 3D-printed hand, but the tech­nol­ogy is so new there’s a wait­ing list, her mother said. Then she learned of what Build It Workspace could do from a friend whose son vis­ited with his Scout troop. The small stu­dio teaches peo­ple to use high-tech prin­ters, pro­vides ac­cess to them for projects and does its own com­mer­cial print­ing.

Although the com­pany, founded less than a year ago by me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer Mark Lengs­feld, has printed out ev­ery­thing from pumps for oil and gas com­pa­nies to parts for un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles, this was the first hand Lengs­feld and his em­ploy­ees had built.

So he used E- Nable’s open­source tech­nol­ogy and called in Cal State, Dominguez Hills’ ex­perts for guid­ance.

When Faith quickly strapped on their new cre­ation and headed out to ride Tues­day morn­ing, as TV cam­eras cap­tured the mo­ment, Lengs­feld ad­mit­ted he was ner­vous. Af­ter be­ing up all night fin­ish­ing the hand, he wanted to test it him­self to be sure it worked.

“But she did fine with it,” he said, chuck­ling.

She noted well.

“I didn’t have to lean so much,” she said of the dif­fi­culty of nav­i­gat­ing and steer­ing a bike with just one hand.

Af­ter­ward, as more than a dozen re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers,

it did fine by her as as well as school and city of­fi­cials, fam­ily friends and oth­ers, crowded into Build It’s small stu­dio, the lit­tle girl sat shyly in front of a huge poster read­ing “Hand It To Faith” that Lengs­feld had made for her.

But when asked to demon­strate how she can use the hand to help with things like school­work, she got busy. She placed her new hand firmly on a piece of pa­per, hold­ing it in place as she drew a pic­ture.

And just what did she draw? Her new hand, of course, com­plete with robot fin­gers in per­fect de­tail.


1. Faith Len­nox, 7, right, smiles as she holds an ex­tra plas­tic pros­thet­ics part with her newly 3D-printed hand at the Build it Workspace in Los Alami­tos, Cal­i­for­nia on Tues­day, March 31. 2. Faith Len­nox, left, shows her mother Ni­cole her newly 3D-printed hand at the Build it Workspace in Los Alami­tos, on Tues­day. 3. Faith Len­nox, ad­justs her newly 3D-printed hand at the Build it Workspace in Los Alami­tos, on Tues­day.

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