South African Boy Gets Robotic Hand Made With 3-D Printer

Liam, age 5, with prosthetic hand. (Image Credit: Robohand)

A 3-D printed prosthetic hand has changed the life of a 5-year-old South African boy who was born without fingers on his right hand, and may be a model for people seeking a low-cost prosthesis.

The boy, named Liam, benefited from work done by Ivan Owen, a part-time mechanical special effects artist in Washington. He was collaborating online with Rich Van As, a woodworker from South Africa, who lost four fingers in a workshop accident. Liam's mother came across their blog posts about the "robohand" they were developing.

"I had never connected the dots between what I was doing and that it had a practical application," Owen told

The men decided to make Liam his own "robohand" and the result has been life-changing. He can now throw a basketball, push a shopping cart and even pick up a coin using his prosthetic hand.

The hand is powered by cables and return bungees. The fingers and wrist hinge were made using a 3-D printer - a computerized device that, given the dimensions of an object, can create copies of it by adding layers of resin or other material.

Owen and Van As, who both have day jobs, met for the first time in November in South Africa. Most of the collaboration was done online, Owen said.

After seeing how well their invention worked for Liam, Owen said their dream is to form a nonprofit to educate people on how to create and assemble robohands.

"We want to provide materials, parts and knowledge, and then someone in the community can assist them with assembly and fitting," Owen said. "We see that as most realistic way to get this idea to the people who need it, and at the largest scale possible."