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Home Technocracy e-NABLING THE FUTURE

How much does a hand cost?


Afsana Khan

Having to live without a hand takes its toll on people regardless of how long they have had to get used to it. Adults have quite a hard time adjusting, let alone children for whom it is probably the most difficult – not just physically, but also on a deeply psychological level. 

Since it’s initiation in 2013, e-NABLE has grabbed headlines all over the world for their steps taken to build an easier and more colorful life for these special underlings of our society. e-NABLE is a global network of volunteers using 3D printing technology to give the world a ‘helping hand’. It was founded by Jon Schull, a Research Scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta, New York State.

The idea was inspired by the work of a prop maker from the US, Ivan Owen and Richard Van As, a South African carpenter who collaborated remotely to develop a 3D printed hand device for the latter. The two then proceeded to develop a hand for Liam, a 5-year old boy born without fingers and posted the design and instructions for their Robohand on Thingiverse, a website for sharing digital designs. Schull picked up on this and along came e-NABLE - where Ivan Owen now plays a key role as a device designer and educator.

In two years' time, e-NABLE has exponentially grown into a worldwide sensation constituted of over 4,000 individuals spread over 37 countries. Together, the e-NABLE community has designed and fabricated 1,400 3D-printed prosthetic hands for children and adults alike, most of who have at least a partially functional wrist but no fingers.

e-NABLE hands are characterized by their simplicity in terms of pricing, assemblage, usage and ease of customization. Made using a 3D printer and nontoxic worth USD 8 to USD 15, waterproof 3D-printer plastic paired with elastics, cables and screws available at the E-NABLE website itself for distribution, the price of the materials stands at a maximum of USD 35. The community also provides all the support necessary for a volunteer to print, assemble and fit a hand onto a patient. 

The price and quality of 3D printers have improved considerably in the recent years, making it available to almost anyone anywhere in the world. e-NABLE hands can be made using 3D printers ranging from USD 500 - 3,000. Materials required in the process of making are available at the e-NABLE website. Professionally made muscle actuated prosthetic hands cost about USD 6,000 - 10,000. Comparatively, the costs for making an E-NABLE hand are far more feasible for underserved communities for whom traditional prostheses are too expensive (because they can cost thousands of dollars per year) or impractical (because children outgrow them).

Special children deserve special hands and E-NABLE ensures just that. The community is popular for providing child-friendly custom designs for prosthetic hands themed around Superheroes and sci-fi favorites such as Star Wars. Some of the most creative designs include a Wolverine hand, a Barbie Raptor Reloaded and a Darth Vader inspired hand.

Barbie Raptor Reloaded hands collection from one of the e-NABLE clients

In February of 2015, e-NABLE in collaboration with the cast of Marvel Universe LIVE! show gave six youngsters from Dallas, Texas, USA the chance to create and build their own prosthetics devices on the spot. The children, Hudson, Miah, Abby, Jax, Jackson, and Kinley, were able to watch their Super Hero hand become fabricated on an on-location 3D printer before assembling it themselves with the help from both teams. 

Through their Superhero hands, e-NABLE is not only giving the children a prosthetic hand but also empowering them. Being different can take its toll on a child’s confidence and thus the custom Superhero hands go a long way in boosting morale. The smiles say it all at the end of the day. 

* Author duly acknowledges e-NABLE's founder Jon Schull's co-operation and support in drafting this article.*

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