mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
3D Revolution
Printing Limbs for African Children

Thanks to the magic of 3D printing, a young amputee in South Sudan can feed himself again. The LA Times has a long human interest story about a Hollywood producer turned inventor and philanthropist, who heads a team that designs technical solutions for medical problems. Here’s the scene where Mick Ebeling makes a prosthetic for the boy, Daniel, in the dangerous region of Gidel in South Sudan’s Nuba Mountains:

In a small tin shed, Ebeling connected a 3-D printer to a laptop. The printer began melting plastic to form three-dimensional pieces, which he then joined together like Legos. He worked off a design created by a carpenter friend who, after accidentally severing four fingers with a table saw, had built his own prosthesis.

It took two days for Ebeling to print and construct a skeletal plastic hand bolted to an arm-like cylinder. Nylon cords attached to each plastic finger snaked up the length of the apparatus so that when the wearer flexed his or her elbow, the cords tightened and pulled the fingers into a fist.

Once the prosthetic device was fitted to Daniel’s upper arm, the boy was able to wave, toss an object and feed himself with a spoon, major feats for someone who had been forced to rely on others for the most basic everyday tasks.

Eberling’s first project was the “EyeWriter,” a web camera attached to a pair of glasses that tracks the wearer’s eye movements so he can “draw” on a computer screen. All inventions designed by his team, Not Impossible, are open source. You can learn how to make your own EyeWriter from a video on their website, using everyday items like sunglasses and a hanger.

These printed prosthetics are still in the early stages, and don’t allow wearers much flexibility or range of motion. As the Times notes, however, there have been some notable successes in the use of 3D printed body parts. One doctor implanted a 3D-printed pelvis into a patient, and a paraplegic woman was able to walk again using a “3D-printed robotic suit.”

As 3D printers become cheaper and easier to get, we hope they’ll continue to be put to such philanthropic use.

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service