Sunday, August 11, 2013

3-D Printing: "Robohand" and the Future of Prosthetics

A visit to the Makerbot retail store in Manhattan is an eye-opener, even for those who have been following the rise of 3-D printing over the last few years.  One can see--and touch--the dimensions of new breakthroughs in prosthetics (to say nothing of any other gave of physical object that might be manufactured).

Makerbot, headquartered in Brooklyn, has been around for a while, but it has chosen to create a showcase for itself in the East Village.    That's good, because now more people will see the potential of 3-D printing, including its potential for medical devices. 

Take a look at this "Robohand," or prosthetic hand, for example, pictured below:

The basic design was created by a man who had lost his hand, and, well, wanted another one.  So here it is: all the parts here were made by a 3-D printer, except for the bolts (which could be made by 3-D), and the cords.   It's functional and capable of grasping.   

So how much did it cost?   The machine to make it, from Makerbot, is $2200.  The material, the filament, is about $2.  The CAD/CAM software is free, one of thousands of such free programs from Thingiverse

We might ask: What will this same project look like a year from now?  And how much will it cost?  We all know the answer--if we allow this new technology to advance.

And of course, that advance is vital for many, including our Wounded Warriors, to whom we owe so much.  President Obama recently announced an additional $100 million for medical research and treatment; 3-D printing of prosthetics helps us see how that money could make a difference--not just for the benefit of Wounded Warriors, not just for anyone else in need of prosthetics, but also for the huge new industry now on the horizon.   Doing good and doing well--that's the magical combination of the industrial revolution and mass production.  

Here's another picture of another prosthetic device, alas, not as clear.  

And here, for what it's worth, is a picture of the description of the process by which this "Robohand" was made.   

Much more, of course, to be found on the Makerbot websites. 

The future is, indeed, bright.  

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