When it comes to everyday life, entry-level prosthetic devices do an excellent job of replacing limbs for basic tasks. These simple replacements are relatively affordable and easy to produce, but they are limited when it comes to specialty uses. Meanwhile, specialty limbs, especially ones designed for athletic purposes, can cost thousands of dollars and must be designed specifically for the user.
With the rise of 3D printing, however, amputees now have the option to create their limbs based on their individual needs. Pursuing the 3D printing route is what young amputee Logan did when he wanted to play basketball and needed a hoop-shooting hand, reports 3DPrint.
The process of designing a 3D-printed hand suitable for basketball started when Logan wanted to hit the court, but couldn’t because his standard prosthetic hand didn’t articulate like a real wrist. Both dribbling and shooting require a flicking or whipping motion that is not possible with a basic prosthetic hand. Logan could play one-handed using his real arm, but anyone who has played basketball knows how incredibly difficult and limiting that would be.
To help Logan reach his dream of playing basketball, the team over at AIO Robotics, the company behind the Zeus All-in-One 3D Printer, offered their 3D-printing expertise. AIO worked with 3D printing for Everyone (3D4E), a 3D-printing club from the University of California Los Angeles. The two teams used the Raptor Reloaded prosthetic hand from Enabling The Future as their template and custom designed their own version dubbed the Spock.
The team had to retool the hand, which closes its fingers when the wrist is bent backward. This is problematic for playing basketball, so the team had to reverse the way the fingers closed, and then modify the articulation points to better simulate the whipping motion needed to shoot and dribble. The team also decided to use three fingers instead of four, and equipped each one with a rubber grip on the tip for improved ball handling. Each prosthetic hand has 30 individual parts that were printed on the AIO Robotics Zeus and held together using nylon wire and screws.
With a prototype in hand, the engineers invited Logan to the UCLA campus to test out the prosthetic device. It took a little while for Logan to adjust to the new hand, but once he got the hang of it, he was sinking his shots, making 17 baskets by the end of the day.
Though the first performance was successful, the hand remains a work in progress with the team planning to refine the design. Eventually, they hope to offer the prosthetic to other amputees, who will receive the Spock hand along with specialized training in using it from the UCLA women’s basketball team.