This could be the coolest STEM-related Scout service project I’ve ever seen.
Scouts and Venturers in Baltimore are creating 3-D-printed hands to distribute to kids in need around the world.
Increasingly affordable and simple to use, 3-D printers do exactly as their name implies: they create, seemingly out of thin air, a three-dimensional model of pretty much anything you can think of. Prosthetic hands are among the more altruistic 3-D-printed items around.
Among the beneficiaries of these 3-D-printed hands: Children born with partially formed arms, a category that accounts for one in every 1,500 children worldwide.
Standard prosthetic arms and hands cost thousands of dollars. Assuming you already have access to a 3-D printer, 3-D-printed hands can be made for less than $100.
The hands rely on simple technology: Strings act as tendons that open and close the fingers when the wrist bends. Some of the hands are precise and powerful enough to let users pick up a spoon and eat cereal. Others let kids wear a baseball glove and catch a fly ball. Talk about returning freedom to kids with disabilities.
What was once a potential source of embarrassment for these kids now makes other boys and girls jealous. The hands turn these kids into human Transformers, and it helps that the devices have cool names like the Raptor, the Cyborg Beast and the Talon.
“Luke used to be shy about his hand and sometimes hid it behind his back,” Gregg Dennison, father of 8-year-old “Little Cool Hand” Luke, told Popular Science. Luke was born without a left hand, and Dennison purchased his own 3-D printer and made a hand for Luke. “Now, Luke shows off his 3-D-printed hand at school. It really boosted his confidence.”
This is where Scouting comes in
Maria Esquela is a Baltimore-area mom and Scout leader who set up workshops to train Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers and Girl Scouts to assemble 3-D-printed prosthetic hands.
Esquela has hosted four workshops, and so far her Scouts and Venturers have assembled 46 hands. The hands are printed by e-NABLE, a group that develops open-source designs for 3-D-printed hands. The Scouts and Venturers assemble the fresh-off-the-printer parts.
Teens have a reputation for not being able to sit still for more than 20 minutes, but these youngsters enjoyed the project so much it was tough getting them to quit at the end of the day.
“Every Scout there was fully engaged in the project and didn’t want to stop because they understood the mission and believed in it,” Esquela told E-Nabling the Future.
Venturer Connor Brock, who sent me this blog post idea, took one of the 3-D-printed hands he created to a boy at Johns Hopkins Hospital. That one moment made all the tedious, precise work of assembling hands worth it, he said.
“I went to Hopkins for this fitting for this kid in Virginia,” he told Not Impossible Now. “It was a great experience because these pieces I was making I got to see assembled and put on this kid who had never had a left arm. And within 10 minutes he was picking up a ball and playing games with his sister. It was really great. It made everything real for me.”