Inexpensive 3D Limbs Could Bring New Hope to Sudan's 50,000 Amputees

Brian Heater
Tech Columnist

When you work for a 3D printing company, you get the same question a lot: “Can I make anything useful with this?” The story of Robohand, a 3D printed prosthesis for amputees, is one of the most powerful answers to that question.

What makes the project inspirational is what it has been able to do for children. Making prosthesis for kids is an expensive proposition. Given the speed with which the  grow, it means having to replace prosthetics regularly. 3D printing brings to the table the potential for inexpensive, and thus easily replaceable, prostheses.

California-based nonprofit Not Impossible Labs got wind of the Robohand project and flew its co-creator Richard van As (himself an amputee) to Los Angeles for a training session, eventually taking the prosthetic printing skills they learned, and two MakerBot  Replicator 2s, to the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan late last year.

Over the course of two weeks, the team printed limbs and in turn trained Sudan residents on the fabrication process, through conditions that were reportedly so hot the team had to use electric fans so the printed plastic would cool properly. While the project has yet to make a wide scale difference on the population of the 50,000 people who lost limbs as a result of Africa’s longest war, the impact on those who have been affected by the project has been huge.

Not Impossible deemed the campaign Project Daniel, borrowing the name from a teenage amputee who told Time Magazine two years ago, “without hands, I can’t do anything.” It’s a place where the loss of a limb carries the very real possibility of death.  Last year, he received a 3D printed arm. In the above video, you can see him using it to eat with a spoon – and smiling all throughout the process.

Yahoo Tech is a brand new tech site from David Pogue and an all-star team of writers. Follow us on Facebook for all the latest.