3D-printed Robohand helps children
born without fingers


News: a prosthetic hand designed for people with missing fingers has been made available to download from the 3D-printing design database Thingiverse (+ movie).

Dubbed Robohand, the prosthesis was conceived by Richard Van As, a South African carpenter who lost four fingers from his right hand in a work accident.


He got in touch with Ivan Owen, a mechanical props designer from the USA, and the pair designed a set of mechanical fingers printed from plastic with a Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer, donated by Makerbot.


"[The Makerbot] dramatically increased the speed at which we could prototype and try out ideas, and gave us the ability to both hold a physical copy of the exact same thing, even though we were separated by 10,000 miles," says Van As in the movie.


They then tried making a complete hand for a child with amniotic band syndrome, a condition that causes babies to be born with missing or severely shortened fingers.


The resulting Robohand is worn around the wrist and lower arm like a gauntlet and driven by the motion of the wrist.


Bending the wrist forwards causes the cabling to pull the fingers closed, while moving it back releases the fingers.


The digits, knuckle block and wrist hinges are all printed by the Makerbot and joined by cabling and stainless steel bolts, all of which are easy to find and replace.

Prototypes of the Robohand in different sizes

"With the Makerbot, as [the child] grows, all we do is scale it up and print him another one, and the hardware just gets taken from that and put on the new hand," explains Van As, adding that old hands can then be reused by other children.


The 3D print files for the Robohand are open source and available to print from the Thingiverse website.


Other uses of 3D printing in medicine include a 3D-printed bionic ear that can hear radio frequencies beyond a human's normal range.

We recently reported on the possibility of printing human organs in Print Shift, our one-off publication about the emerging technology – see all 3D printing news or see design for healthcare.

  • Great potential, but why can’t it look good? Looks like something found in the backyard. Embarrassing.

    • Klaus

      Why can’t it look good? I’m sorry Omri, but I think you are missing the point here. This may be even a prototype, it may be “simple”, but it’s working and I don’t think beauty was crucial in the design process. A designer would probably make it look better, but what would be the costs?

      It works, it’s almost free, it could improve the quality of life of the people who need it.
      This is what design should be more about, not just good looking, cool, signed stuff.

    • rohtmuz

      Is the concept not more important than looking good?

      In my opinion it is beautiful, look at the expressions on the children’s faces – they clearly think it’s cool. It allows them to do something they couldn’t do without this technology.

    • Allan

      It's beautiful functionality.

    • Jimi

      No problem, Omri. Just design and print a better looking one yourself.

    • Jamie

      Embarrassing? It’s amazing that they can help childeren like this. It’s not about the look but the use of the hand they were born with.

  • mmmhhh

    Please tell me this is happening.

  • Dom

    Finally, an actual application for 3D printing.

  • Gar

    What a great story. Great to see technology empowering people.

  • paperblg

    And yet on the other hand (mind the pun), other people are using rapid prototyping to print guns.

    • Which shows technology is never inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in itself. It’s how we choose to use it that matters :)

  • étienne

    Dear Wiki Weapon, watch and learn.

  • rohtmuz

    A much better use of 3D printing than making weapons, this is brilliant. Glad to see someone making the most of a new technology.

  • This is incredible. Absolutely beautiful – those children are so excited to be able to use their hands – and to have Robohands! Let their imaginations run wild. I love that this is such an accessible tool, and that it’s so quick and simple to make. It’s also nothing short of award winning humanist technology. Congratulations to those involved for improving the quality of life for innumerable people in the future – so impressed that the design is available online to anyone with access to a 3D printer!

  • _FA

    Stunning! Thumbs up!

  • Ambede

    This is such a wonderful idea and the fact that it is so easy to make fills me with hope that it will be used extensively very quickly – love the look on the kids faces – good stuff.

  • betarice

    The little kid has such a cute grin.

    A thought: when I design my one, I’m going to give it crazy features, not just fingers! Maybe six fingers, maybe a Dremel attachment…

  • Ofer

    I’m glad you noted this is much better than a gun. Now please apply this insight to all life and use talent for good purpose. What I’m saying is that money is not a purpose; the good of the world is a purpose so crave for it.