Tag Archives: 3D-Printed Prosthetics

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist OpenBionics

Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 

While there are surely amazing bionic hands available for amputees today, their price tag can range anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. This is life-changing technology that has a tremendous impact on people all over the world, however the vast majority can’t afford it. Not to mention, these devices are often times too heavy. As a result, one group of Makers decided to take it upon themselves to create a low-cost, lightweight, custom bionic hand with the help of 3D printing. The total cost? Less than $1,000 — a mere fraction of its commercial counterparts.

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with OpenBionics team member Minas Liarokapis to gain a better insight into the project, its inception and what’s in store for the future.


Atmel: What is OpenBionics?

Minas Liarokapis: OpenBionics is an open source initiative for the development of affordable, highly functional, low complexity robotic and prosthetic devices that can be easily fabricated with rapid prototyping techniques and off-the-shelf materials. We have already built a few generations of robotic and prosthetic hands — since 2013 when OpenBionics was founded — and we are continuously working on improving our designs.

Atmel:. How did you come to the idea for OpenBionics? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

ML: I had the inspiration for the creation of OpenBionics while working on my PhD thesis at the Control Systems Lab (CSL) of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), under the supervision of Professor Kostas Kyriakopoulos (lab director). He was motivated by the observation that the state of the art robotic and prosthetic hands are overpriced and lack basic functionalities. So, in 2013 the OpenBionics team was set up, consisting of Agis Zisimatos and Christoforos Mavrogiannis and Prof. Kostas Kyriakopoulos also members of the CSL. In 2014, George Kontoudis joined the team.

Since the early beginnings of the OpenBionics initiative, our main priority was to share open designs with the community of Makers, scientists, hobbyists, robotic enthusiasts and later on with people in need (e.g. amputees). Hackaday appeared to be a welcoming community for projects like ours and upon hearing about the Prize we felt this would be a good motivation for us to accelerate the development of our hands.


Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping OpenBionics changes the world? What’s the mission?

ML: A lot of companies and initiatives claim that they will change the world, it’s a catchy phrase, a nice slogan. We dream about changing the world, we really hope that we will be able to play a significant role in this process at some point. Until then, we want to change people’s lives. To make them happier, more productive, to inspire them to be creative. To help amputees regain their lost dexterity. To educate young engineers, who will eventually become better than us. People will change the world, not initiatives or companies. Together we can change the world and we can make it a better place.

Regarding our HaD Prize project, we have proposed a fully functional prosthetic hand that can execute 144 grasps with a single actuator. This hand weighs less than 300g and costs less than $200. Currently, we are working also on giving to the design a product feel and make it more beautiful. Nowadays, commercially available prostheses cost up to $100.000, more than a sports car. This is irrational and has to be changed. We really hope that products like ours will reshape the prosthetics market. Amputees can build their own prostheses. Hackerspaces, Makerspaces and Fab-Labs can facilitate this process. We really hope that we will trigger a change in this field.

Atmel: What’s different about it? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see OpenBionics going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

ML: Our prosthetic hand design is based on a novel differential mechanism that allows a single actuator to control multiple fingers using a simple intuitive interface based on buttons. This differential facilitates the desired cost and weight reduction. We feel, that the differential is the cool idea.

OpenBionics just started. We have many ideas and many cool designs in mind for the years to come. We want to be part of the open-source revolution! From the beginning our designs have been completely open for everyone to use them and experiment with them. We hope to achieve a level of design simplicity for our products, that will allow everyone — amputees, Makers, scientists and hobbyists — to replicate our hands using the provided assembly guides. Stay tuned for more!


Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardware engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

ML: We are a team of engineers and we are all working professionally (most of us in academic positions) in the area of robotics.

Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

ML: Other than the hardware designed by the initiative, we use [Atmel based] Arduino boards, servo motors and NFC tags for the new design of the NFC ready fingers.

Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?

ML: We have many different ongoing projects. In the next few months, we will release a new version of our prosthetic hand, based on the Hybrid Deposition Manufacturing technique. Then, we will focus on ameliorating our robot hands. Exoskeletons, rehabilitation and other wearable human augmentation devices are also in our future plans.

Atmel: Why pick Atmel (and Arduino) chips?

ML: Arduino boards with Atmel chips are open source, affordable and well documented. These are characteristics of paramount importance for us.

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

ML: They should not be afraid to fail. We have failed many times, but we never gave up. We feel that when someone has an idea worth spreading she/he has an obligation to share it with the world, no matter how busy she/he is or what other personal constraints she/he has. Dream, design, build, repeat and in the process you will have a lot of fun!


Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

ML: All these ideas have definitely crossed our minds and we are currently in a process of discussing with each other the future of OpenBionics. The only certain thing, is that the initiative will remain completely open source. We are open to new collaborations and we plan to be even more involved in the Makers and open source communities.

AtmelAnd… if you win, will you be heading to space or taking the cash?!

ML: Space is fun, but we are four and we cannot decide who to send up there. Moreover, if we get the cash we will be able to do wonderful things and prepare far more exciting designs

AtmelAnything else you want to tell us and our followers?

ML: Don’t be afraid to dream, design, create, innovate and please keep your minds and your ideas open. Together we are much stronger!

(UPDATE: Liarokapis and the OpenBionics crew took home second place in the 2015 Hackaday Prize.)

Don’t miss our recent interview with fellow HaD Prize finalist Chris Low. You can check that out here!

15 animals who were given a new lease on life by 3D printing

The lives of animals are being changed thanks to advancements in 3D-printed prosthetics.

The field of animal prostheses (much like that of humans) before the advent of 3D printing was limited in terms of design, accessibility, and most of all, affordability. Fortunately, the Maker Movement has opened the door to a number of low-cost machines and open source files, which have made it possible to give several of our four-legged (and not-so-four-legged) friends a new lease on life. From tiny wheelchairs for chihuahuas to new shells for turtles, 3D printing has demonstrated the tremendous impact it can and will continue to have on both humans and animals alike.

TurboRoo the Chihuahua

Dudley the Duck

Hobbes the Terrier Mix

Ozzie the Goose

Akut-3 the Turtle

Benji the Kitten

Bubbles the Wiener Dog

Scooter the Two-Legged Pup

Cleopatra the Tortoise

Quack Quack the Duck

Derby the Dog

Stumpy the Box Turtle

Holly the Horse

Buttercup the Duck

Beauty the Bald Eagle

HACKberry is an open source, 3D-printed bionic hand

This 3D-printable bionic limb is controlled by a smartphone, powered by camera batteries and based on an Arduino. 

If you sit back and reflect over the past couple of years, it’s truly remarkable how far the world of prosthetics has come thanks to recent advancements in 3D printing and open hardware. These artificial limbs have transcended well beyond the heavy, plastic and metal pieces of yesteryear into lightweight, sci-fi-like accessories that can be easily constructed and controlled in ways never before imagined.


Aside from providing these body-adorned gadgets with futuristic capabilities, what makes the sleek and futuristic prosthetics even more appealing are their price tags — a fraction of the cost of its older and commercial counterparts. With aspirations of accelerating development and increasing accessibility, Japan-based startup exiii has developed an open source bionic hand that is built around an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4) and myoelectric sensors, uses a smartphone as the brains of its operation and relies upon camera batteries for power. Named HACKberrymost of the device is comprised of 3D-printed components that can be taken apart and swapped out whenever necessary.

“HACKberry is a practical model for daily use created through the cooperation of actual users. Hackberries, which are a species of trees included in the elm family, grow many branches,” exiii writes. “Our goal is to develop an artificial arm that would become the platform upon which developers and artificial arm users from all over the world are able to build as they wish.
The name represents our vision to ‘hack’ at problems, grow branches of joy that reach out to users and enable their ideas and efforts to bear fruit (‘berries’).”


While its newest model may not be ready for sale yet, the limb only took $300 to create. The latest iteration boasts a number improvements compared to its more expensive (and not open source) sibling, the Handoii, which includes a more flexible wrist for various movements, a smaller palm to make it attractive for women to wear, and enhanced compatibility to an assortment of camera batteries. Impressively, what really sets HACKberry apart is that its ductile fingers that can even differentiate between grasping and picking up based on the object, whether that’s turning the page of a magazine, grabbing some nail polish or even tying one’s shoelaces.


Want to learn more? exiii has made all of its files available on GitHub page. This includes printing and source codes for software, as well as all the data for its hand, sensor and battery boards. In the meantime, you can see HACKberry in action below!

Puppy given the ability to walk thanks to 3D printing

3D printing lets another two-legged dog run around with his four-legged friends.

A 3D-printed wheelchair has enabled a dachshund puppy, born without front limbs, to walk again. This heartwarming story is just the latest example of how the additive process is helping our friends from the animal kingdom get a second lease on life. Last year, we saw an adorable Chihuahua nicknamed TurboRoo roll around in his 3D-printed cart, while fellow canine Derby was given modified front legs that let the husky run for the first time.


In this case, the six-month-old dog’s owners Trevor Byers and Elissa Smoak decided to build their beloved pup a wheelchair in an effort to help Bubbles get around in a much easier manner. To do so, the couple used a “combination of carbon fiber, model airplane, and 3D printed parts with the hope that others would be able to utilize the same design for their own dogs in need of a wheelchair,” 3ders.org writes.

Byers uploaded the life-changing design to MakerBot’s Thingiverse for other pet owners in a similar situation seeking assistance. “Bubbles is the reason I bought my printer in the first place and she loves the freedom it has given her,” the Maker explains.

The design features a torso support combined with an axle and two wheels. Once again, the prosthetic creation proved to not only be a more affordable option, but is more accessible than existing wheelchairs on the market today. Additionally, a pet owner can customize the size and weight of the contraption depending on the dog’s needs.

So, whether it’s a seven-year-old boyStumpy the turtle, or Quack Quack the duck, 3D printing has the potential to change the lives of humans and animals alike. The latest string of projects merely scratch the surface of the technology’s wide-range of uses, and more impressively, how localized manufacturing will only require one person to create a model and for the entire world to benefit.

Video: 7-year-old boy receives a new prosthetic “trooper” arm

Add Stormtrooper to the growing list of comic book-inspired, 3D-printed prosthetics.

In recent months, we’ve come across quite a few miraculous and heartwarming 3D printing stories. And, it looks like that momentum is carrying on into 2015. The Maker Movement has now given a seven-year-old boy, who was born without part of his left arm, a pretty amazing 3D-printed Clone Trooper prosthetic.


First reported by the Augusta ChronicleLiam received his new limb as part of an international effort to harness new DIY tech to help those requiring prosthetics they otherwise couldn’t obtain. While commercial pieces can cost upwards of $40,000, more affordable options have been made available thanks to recent advancements in 3D printing. In addition to that, many insurance companies do not cover costly prostheses for children because they will quickly outgrow them; subsequently, 3DPs are a practical and feasible alternative.

After learning about E-Nable, a group of volunteers who print prosthetic parts for kids, Maker John Peterson decided to put his skills and acquired printer to go use by crafting a Star Wars-esque arm for the boy. It took the Maker nearly three months to create Liam’s new limb — for only $300.


A huge fan of the flick, Liam had spotted Imperial Stormtroopers marching toward him after leaving a Georgia movie theater. What he didn’t know was that the troopers were there to surprise him with a new 3D-printed prosthetic arm, which was paired with a Clone Trooper helmet and an invitation to join the 501st Legion.

Once Liam inserted it onto his left elbow, he was able to flex the fist and hold a cup. You’ll want to watch the entire surprise below!

Rewind: 2014 was the year of the 3D-printed prosthetic

Undoubtedly, 2014 has emerged as quite the watershed year for 3D-printed prosthetics. Whereas traditional transfemoral and transhumeral prostheses can set a patient back anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000 every three to four years due to wear and tear, 3D printing is proving to be a much more efficient, cost-effective alternative. Thanks to the rise of [Atmel based] 3D printers, a lifetime of prosthetics will soon cost much less than just a single commercially-made artificial limb.

In the near future, increased accessibility to 3D printers, as well as organizations like e-NABLE and Not Impossible Labs, will provide those in need with the ability to create custom, on-demand prosthetics.

With just weeks left before 2015, we’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite 3D-printed prosthetic projects that have made a difference over the last 12 months…

Youbionic will usher in a new era of prosthetics


Developed by Italian designer Federico Ciccarese, the white plastic hand is equipped with multi-colored wires attached to an electronic switchboard, powered by an Arduino Micro (ATmega32U4). Going one step further than the average prosthetic, the hand works through a series of sensors and actuator motors, controlled by the Arduino board. “I tried to make it as pleasing to the eye as possible while also focusing on making its movements as natural as possible,” Ciccarese explains.

This Wolverine hand is clawsome


e-NABLE volunteer Aaron Brown recently gained the attention of mainstream media after he sought out to add a new dimension to prosthetic hands, which at the time, had not been done before. In fact, he wanted to create custom superhero hands, starting with the world’s first 3D-printed prosthetic Wolverine claw. So, Brown decided to 3D print a cyborg beat prosthetic hand, using traditional “Michigan blue and yellow colors” (after all, it was on display at the Grand Rapids Maker Faire). He then attached short, plastic claws to Velcro to the hand. [h/t e-NABLE]

Iron Man to the rescue


Pat Starace recently put together a beaming, blinking and beautiful version of Tony Starks’s armor using an Arduino, some LEDs and Bluetooth. The Maker elected to develop his own hand abiding by several principles — it had to look and perform awesome, and it had to hide all the strings (typically visible in other low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hands), so nothing distracted from its magic. “How can we help a child that faces everyday challenges with a disability? My answer is to give them the most awesome prosthetic hand, and raise their self esteem to Super Hero Levels,” Starace adds.

Students create a robotic prosthetic arm


Students at Washington University in St. Louis recently created a robotic prosthetic arm for 13-year-old Sydney Kendall. The total cost? $200, a mer of the price of standard prosthetics. The prosthesis is battery-powered and controlled with an accelerometer; while the thumb moves with a slightly different trigger – compared with finger motion.

3D printing gives man a $100 bionic hand


With the help of a $100 3D-printed design, do-it-yourselfer Howard Kamarata has regained some of the ability to use his hands after a devastating accident. While working on an outdoor project one October night, a slip of a miter saw took off four fingers above Kamarata’s knuckles. Industrial designer Casey Barrett got wind of the incident and offered to assist using a 3D printer, which he used to create the missing pieces for each finger. He rounded out the design by piecing together a glove, fishing wire, pins and screws purchased at a DIY shop.

$50 3D-printed hand trumps $42,000 prosthesis


53-year old Jose Delgado, Jr. was born without most of his left hand. With the help of insurance, Delgado managed to obtain a number of different prosthetic devices over the years, including a myoelectric device that uses the muscle signals in his forearm to trigger the closing or opening of the fingers. The total cost? $42,000, of which Jose paid about half out of pocket. Unsurprisingly, Delgado eventually decided to seek a cheaper option and so approached Jeremy Simon of 3DUniverse to inquire about obtaining a simple 3D-printed prothesis. Simon recommended the Cyborg Beast – even though he was initially somewhat skeptical about the basic 3D-printed prothesis. In short, the simple, mechanical design has provided Delgado with more day-to-day functionality than his far more expensive myoelectric prosthesis.

Robohands aiding in conflict zones


Daniel Omar, who lives in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, lost both his arms at just 14-years-old when a government plane dropped a bomb near his village during the country’s protracted civil war. Omar – who is now 16 – only recently picked up a fork to feed himself for the first time in two years using a prosthetic arm with parts make on an [Atmel based] MakerBot Replicator 2. The arm was designed by Mick Ebeling, the CEO of Not Impossible Labs.

Student creates 3D-printed prosthetic arm for a classmate


Evan Kuester, a digital fabrication graduate student, didn’t feel completely fulfilled by his coursework. He worked through his studies, but wasn’t necessarily making the impact that he had hoped. After noticing a female student on campus without a hand, he decided to put his education to good use. Kuester designed the arm using Rhino with a plug-in called Grashopper. Upon taking photos of his fellow classmate’s arm and a few measurements, he began modeling something that would be both functional yet aesthetically pleasing. The final prosthetic was printed in ABS as a single piece and did require a support structure for that intricate frame work. Once the support structure was dissolved, it was ready to be worn. [h/t MAKE]

3D printing helps 71-year-old man avoid amputation


A staff of Australian doctors carried out the world’s first procedure of printing a new heel bone. Pioneered by Professor Peter Choong at Melbourne-based Saint Vincent’s Hospital, the breakthrough has allowed 71-year-old Len Chandler to avoid amputation after being diagnosed with cartilage cancer in the foot. Typically speaking, those suffering from this disease lose the leg below the knee due to possible fracture. In order to create an exact replica of the patient’s right heel bone, the team mirrored a CT scan of Chandler’s tumor-free left heel bone which had the exact dimensions. The bone was then constructed out of titanium using a 3D printer.

3D printing helps build upper jaw prosthetic for cancer patient


After a 41-year-old Bangalore man was diagnosed with cancer of the palate, surgeons proceeded to remove his upper jaw, which unfortunately left sections of his nose and mouth exposed. Shortly thereafter, the patient sought a prosthesis but dentists were hesitant in treating him, as taking an impression and producing a mold proved problematic given his inability to open his mouth. It was then that Osteo3D got involved. Using a CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the patient’s face, Osteo3D printed a replica of the patient’s mouth, complete with lower and upper jaw, the defect and his teeth. [h/t Gizmag]

6-year-old receives a hand from a group of college students


The family of a 6-year-old boy who was born without an arm had been struggling to find a way to afford a prosthetic limb for the child — until a group of University of Central Florida students built one for a fraction of the price with a 3D printer. Alex Pring was given his new prosthetic arm — which cost just $350 to build — after the UCF team led by Albert Manero spent two months completing a prototype and publishing its blueprints online. [h/t New York Daily News]

2-year-old given 3D-printed prosthetic


A two-year-old named Caedon Olsen recently received the gift of a new prosthetic hand, thanks to a team of computer science students at Brenham High School in Texas. Olsen was born with an underdeveloped right hand due to a disorder called Ambiotic Band Syndrome, which left the infant without fingers on his right hand and a right palm smaller than his left. His mom, Jeanette Olsenm, approached the high school and with their $1,500 3D printer, the students took on the challenge of creating a prosthetic for the boy. [h/t Global News]

Students lend a helping hand to a former teacher


Former students of fourth grade teacher Patti Anderson, who had lost one of her hands in an accident involving a professional laundry machine, had written a letter to doctors at Johns Hopkins in hopes of getting her a 3D-printed prophetic hand. And well, it worked! [h/t 3DPrint.com]

3D printing gives Quack-Quack a second lease at life


A duck was basking in the sun at National Taiwan University, when a dog randomly attacked the unsuspecting bird. A local animal hospital performed immediate surgery to repair the fowl; yet coming out of the procedure they determined that it would not be able to put any weight on its leg. In true Maker fashion, the ingenious collaboration of Taipei Hackerspace and design firm Lung X Lung turned to 3D printing to help out the duck.

Dad creates 3D-printed fingers for his son


12-year-old Leon McCarthy was born without fingers on his left hand, but thanks to his determined dad, a generous inventor and a 3D printer, he now has a brand new set of digits. [h/t Christian Science Monitor]

TurboRoo gets a new set of wheels


What happens when you take an adorable dog, 3D printing and the kindness of strangers throughout the Maker community? TurboRoo is a chihuahua that was born with a birth defects that caused his two front legs never to grow. While a baby, TurboRoo’s owners created a makeshift set of wheels from an assortment of children’s toys together. Knowing that their pet required a permanent solution, they began seeking $600 in funds online to get this friendly canine into a wheelchair. Maker Mark Deadrick came across TurboRoo’s touching story online. Given the distance between the two (Deadrick lives in San Diego while TurboRoo in Indianapolis), the President of 3dyn decided to print a wheelchair merely based on online photos using a MakerBot Replicator 2.

With the advent of 3D printing, it’s exciting to see how hospitals, labs and Makers are coming together to truly ‘make’ a difference in the lives of those in need. As another year comes to a close, we can only imagine what the future holds for the next-gen technology that continues to revolutionize the medical field — for the better.

3D-printed prosthetic makes kids feel like Iron Man

While a set of 3D-printed prosthetic Wolverine claws are already available, when it comes to superheroes, how can the Maker community forget Iron Man? That is why Maker Pat Starace has put together a beaming, blinking and beautiful version of Tony Starks’s armor using an Arduino, some LEDs and Bluetooth.


It is widely know that 3D-printed prosthetics are immensely cheaper than professionally-made models, which can often run upwards of $10,000. This 3D-printed option is not only cheaper, but adds some Hollywood flair and self-esteem along the way.

“How can we help a child that faces everyday challenges with a disability? My answer is to give them the most awesome prosthetic hand, and raise their self esteem to Super Hero Levels,” Starace writes. The vision was to create a hand, so that a child can have something that solves a mechanical challenge, is affordable, and mostly looks awesome!”

(Mission accomplished, Pat!)


Unlike the Wolverine hand, which used one of the designs from e-NABLE, this Maker elected to develop his own hand along several principles — it had to look awesome, it had to perform awesome, and it had to hide all the strings (typically visible in other low-cost 3D-printed prosthetic hands), so nothing distracted from its magic.

Starace tells 3DPrint.com that his hand can incorporate microcontrollers, wireless devices, smartwatches, sensors, accelerometers, NFC, RFID, and nearly any form of technology. Did we mention that it can also be voice-controlled?

What inspired the Maker? “My main goal is to help a child that is going through life with a disability, and facing everyday challenges in their lives, by making them the COOLEST KID in their school. I can only think this will make a great impact on a child during their early years by raising their self-esteem to superhero levels,” he says.


One other unique aspect of Starace’s project is that it is constructed entirely from scratch. He didn’t rely on any pre-existing schematics and used MAYA to cobble together his design from a series of pictures he found on the Internet. He notes, “There’s a sort of organic mechanical shape to these parts, the goal was to replicate them as close as I could and retain the same look and feel.”

Though Starace didn’t mention as to which 3D printer he used for his build, based on previous projects, we’re guessing it may have been an Atmel megaAVR or SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3 based RepRap. (Pat, are we correct?)

Once converting his form to SolidWorks, he began printing his prop. It took around 48 hours for the model to be completed and upon finishing, the Maker was ecstatic. “It was with great excitement to see the model assembled and perform EXACTLY as I had designed it.”

This is clearly one of the most ingenious 3D-printed designs that we have seen to date and look forward the kind of innovation this hand sparks in the future. Just like Tony Stark’s mind, when it comes to the Makers and Atmel based technologies, the possibilities are seemingly endless!

3D printing gives man a $100 bionic hand

As previously chronicled here on Bits & Pieces, today’s next-gen technologies continue to improve and sometimes even save the lives of accident victims. This story was yet another triumph for the Maker Movement making a difference. With the help of a $100 3D-printed design, one do-it-yourselfer has regained some of the ability to use his hands after an accident he suffered on the job.

Kamarata was a pipe fitter by trade, a home handyman by desire. One day last October, while working on an outdoor project, he had set up his miter saw. The piece he had was short, and he wanted to cut it into 2-inch sections; however, being right-handed, he guided the electric saw with that hand and held the wood in place with his left, near the cutting surface. Before he knew it, the saw caught the wood, throwing it toward Kamarata. His left hand slipped into the blade and just like that, four fingers just above the middle knuckles were gone.


With his fingers unable to be reattached after the incident, he was devastated that he’d no longer be able to use his hands to work. He then ran into a designer friend, Casey Barrett. In one conversation between the two, Kamarata expressed his disappointment in the high pricing of many top-notch prosthetics, which could run upwards of $40,000.

Barrett studied Howard’s issue and recalled some information he had previously seen online about 3D-printed prosthetics. Combining his friend’s cause and his own interest in 3D printing, Barrett decided to look deeper into the subject. He found some plans online and proceeded to produce a series of finger replacements. Each finger has 3-hinged digits and can slightly flex. The duo then took a glove purchased from Home Depot and some braided fishing line to assemble the complete hand. In all, the contraption cost less than $100 and provided priceless benefits to Robert.


“I was able to hold things again,” the handyman tells AZCentral.com. “I could pick up a water bottle.” While these may seem like trivial tasks, they are tremendous achievements for someone who thought they would never be able to utilize their hand again. After his success story, Robert has begun working with the RecFX Foundation to try and help others regain abilities through similar technology.

Researchers continue to explore the use of 3D printing for body parts, particularly those in which come in contact with the body but don’t enter the bloodstream — these include teeth, hearing aid shells, and prosthetic limbs.

3D printing set to revolutionize medicine

3D printing technology is undoubtedly well on its way to going mainstream in the medical world. As previously reported on Bits & Pieces, researchers have already managed to design and print a 3D splint that saved the life of an infant born with severe tracheobronchomalacia – a serious birth defect that causes the airway to collapse. Melbourne scientists also took a big step towards the development of “grow your own” cartilage to treat cancers, osteoarthritis and traumatic injuries using 3D tech, while 3D-printed orthopedic implants were successfully fitted in Peking’s University Third Hospital in Beijing.


recent WebMD special report has explored the integral role 3D printing will play in transforming the medical field. Most notably, WebMD introduces the Washington University in St. Louis students’ production of a 3D-printed, pink robotic arm for 13-year-old Sydney Kendall. The robotic arm, with its opposable thumb, enables Sydney to grip a baseball, maneuver a mouse and even pick up a paper coffee cup, the article notes. The total cost? $200, a mere fraction of the price of standard prosthetics, which start at $6,000 and can run upward to $50,000 to $70,000.

cast high resolution D

3D printing is also widely being used for body parts — usually made of plastic or metal — that come in contact with the body but don’t enter the bloodstream. These include teeth, hearing aid shells, and prosthetic limbs. “In the past, a dental crown had to be fabricated in a lab, which takes a few days if not a few weeks and two to three trips to the dentist by the patient,” said Professor Dr. Chuck Zhang of Georgia Institute of Technology. Now a dentist can take a 3D scan of a tooth and print the crown on the spot.

From prosthetics and teeth to living tissue and heart valves, 3D printing is bringing made-to-order, custom solutions into operating rooms and doctors’ offices. According to experts, dozens of hospitals are already experimenting with 3D printers, while researchers continue work on more futuristic applications of the technology. In June, the National Institutes of Health launched a 3D Print Exchange that allows users to share and download files in hopes that it will foster even more research around the next-gen technology.

“3D printing is a potential game-changer for medical research. At NIH, we have seen an incredible return on investment; pennies’ worth of plastic have helped investigators address important scientific questions while saving time and money, ” explained NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins when announcing the exchange.


In addition to metals and plastics, doctors and scientists around the country are loading 3D printers with human cells and printing living tissue in a process called bioprinting. Researchers are seeking to one day print living organ for transplant using a patient’s own cells. Some experts believe this will become a standard medical practice sometime in the 2020s and 2030s, and ultimately revolutionize organ transplants. Patients wouldn’t die waiting on a donor list, and their immune systems wouldn’t reject the organs.

Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest says researchers will use 3D-printed miniature livers to test drug toxicity, and expect the method to be far more accurate than traditional animal and cell testing. As the article notes, bioengineers at Cornell University have already printed ears, while the University of Michigan is also testing the concept. Many labs are currently printing tissue for research and drug testing, and patching damaged organs with strips of human tissue may happen in the near future, explained Stuart Williams, PhD, of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute at the University of Louisville.

Interested in learning more about the ways in which 3D printing is revolutionizing medicine? Read the entire WebMD article here.