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e-NABLE - 3D Printed Hands for Those in Need

  • Published: 2014-08-06 (Revised/Updated 2015-03-18) : Author: Disabled World : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: The e-NABLE community is creating hands for people in need and sharing their designs with others around the world for free.

Main Document

"It didn't take long at all for Alex to become accustomed to his new right arm and people from across America just as rapidly embraced him and the generosity of the UCF students."

e-NABLE is something that originally began as a couple of guys who created a 3D printed hand with the goal of helping a child in need. It has grown into a world wide global community of engineers, tinkerers, occupational therapists, 3D printing enthusiasts, designers, university professors, parents, family members, students, artists, teachers and others who simply want to make a difference.

The e-NABLE community is creating hands for people in need and sharing their designs with others around the world for free. The incredible e-NABLE community is creating, innovating, re-designing and giving assistance to people who need it, whether it is helping others to print parts for them, create a complete device, or simply to help guide others as they build one for themselves.

People around the world today are 3D printing fingers and hands for children they will never meet in person, classes of high school students who are making hands for children in their own communities. There is a group of people who are risking their own lives to get these devices to people in third world nations. New stories appear regularly of parents working with their children to make a hand together.

The Flextensor

The e-NABLE community has watched ideas appear over the last year, ones that spring from a single basic design and turn into a number of different variations and devices. One of the most active designers in the e-NABLE community is Mr. Peter Binkley, who is the brain power behind the, 'Talon,' and, 'Ody,' hands. Peter has released another incredible design he named, 'The Flextensor.'

The Flextensor does not require a wrist to use force to pick up items as it has removed the need for elastics. The hand has the ability to hold objects with no assistance from a hand or wrist inside. The Flextensor can handle and even open a bottle of water.

Peregrine's and Peter's Hand

The summer of 2013 found Peter and his son Peregrine watching a video about a boy named, 'Liam,' who was born without fingers on one hand, just as Peregrine had been. Liam was wearing a mechanical 3D printed hand and using it to pick things up. Peter and Peregrine downloaded and printed a, 'Snap-Pin Robohand,' and fitted Peregrine with it by cutting and heat-bending the plastic parts and then mounting them onto a leather, 'shoe and sleeve.' The fingers closed through cables that ran on the front side of mechanical fingers and opened via elastics that ran in channels on the back side of the fingers. Their journey with open-source assistive devices had begun.

Image of a 3D printed hand
About This Image: Image of a 3D printed hand
After wearing and using his new hand, Peregrine himself began making suggestions about ways to improve the design. One of his first wishes after fitting the hand was to somehow reduce or eliminate resistance as he closed his hand. To grasp something small requires a lot of sustained force and since the 5 elastics fight back with a high level of resistance, that resistance increases as the hand closes more. The problem becomes worse down the road because most elastics degrade quickly, particularly under stress. As elastics lose their springiness they have to be shortened to effectively open the hand, something that increases the issue of ramping resistance and decreasing the distance of stretch before the elastics essentially bottom out.

Peter began looking into ways to reduce or eliminate resistance. The fastest help was to make the run of the elastics longer and straighter. He made channels that run along the top of the knuckles and installed eye screws on the cable guide. He used a far longer length of elastics so the device does not use as much of the play of the elastic, something that reduces the ramping of resistance.

Another idea was attempting to form in Peter's mind, a mechanical solution that would entirely eliminate elastic resistance. November of 2013 found Peter tossing ideas around and sketching a mechanical device on a piece of paper. As his idea began to take shape, it occurred to him that such a device would be superior from a therapeutic standpoint because the user works both the flexors and extensors of the wrist.

Peter stated, "I'm pretty satisfied with the mechanics - but need to focus on lowering the profile to make it a more compact fit. I also plan to incorporate a tensioner block instead of the set screw cable anchor I've been using. Then I'll need to stress test it and make sue it will hold up to heavy use. " He changed the name of the hand to, 'Flextensor,' because it does the job of both a flexor and extensor.

Image of Alex with his new hand
About This Image: Image of Alex with his new hand
Alex and a New Hand

A 6 year old named Alex absolutely beamed as he rode his bike on a Saturday. Thanks to his new arm, designed by a team of UCF students and alumni, he now has the ability to grip both handlebars and maintain his balance. Earlier, Alex and his mother, Alyson,' sat at their kitchen table talking to news reporters. Alex was proud as he showed off how he uses his new prosthetic arm, gripping a UCF Knights football and a Transformer toy.

It didn't take long at all for Alex to become accustomed to his new right arm and people from across America just as rapidly embraced him and the generosity of the UCF students. The team has posted the designs for the arm online - it can be made for a mere $350. Anyone who has access to a 3D printer and an assortment of off-the-shelf accessories can take the designs and use them to help other children like Alex.

Leading the team from UCF is Ph.D. student Albert Manero who is a Fulbright Scholar. Albert has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Aerospace Engineering from UCF. Albert stated, "My mother taught us that we're supposed to help change the world." My immense respects to Albert's mother.

Even as he prepares to leave for Germany, Albert has been working with 14 other men and women - nearly all of whom are UCF students and alumni, to provide the expertise and determination needed to build the arm out of off-the-shelf servos and batteries that are activated by the electromyography muscle energy in Alex's bicep. Tyler Petresky, the team's youngest member, developed the electrical wiring for Alex's arm. Tyler just completed his freshman year at UCF. Albert said, "We're committed to helping who we can, and I'll be working with my team even when in Germany." The team from UCF has also established the, 'Limbitless Endowed Scholarship,' at UCF to support future students with disabilities such as the one Alex experiences.

Albert's team has released the blueprints and parts lists online for free under a Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-commercial license. Bear in mind that it is a prototype and has been worn by 1 child and they do not have any cumulative data concerning its safety, durability, or function. The team hopes to get a few more beta testers to try out the prosthetics with the guidance of their doctor so they can begin publishing their research and findings.

The e-NABLE community is about sharing ideas, giving them away and taking gifts, redesigning and then re-gifting repeatedly with the goal of sharing with as many people as they can. If you want to join e-NABLE's efforts please do message them on Facebook, or email them at: You can also join the community's Google+ community and share ideas, help with design, or help to print parts for people who want to try making a hand for someone.

Video Clip of the e-NABLE Hand 3D Printed Prosthesis

3D Printed Myo-Electric Arm Design - Now Available For Free!

E-NABLE connects makers to create 3D printed prosthetics for those in need

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