This past January, at Autodesk’s Pier 9 shops in San Francisco, kids from all over the country participated in an event that helped shine a spotlight on what kids do best: explore their creativity. Known as Superhero Cyborgs 2.0, the workshop asked children with upper-limb differences to design their own unique prosthetics capable of granting them “their own superpowers.” Working alongside Autodesk engineers and designers, kids in attendance had the opportunity to learn about 3D modeling, digital fabrication, and the entire process of 3D printing and manufacturing.
Among the group of wide-eyed participants was one particularly creative 10-year-old from Columbia, Missouri, whose 3D-printed sparkle cannon was the talk of the entire weekend. Born with a left arm that stops just above her elbow, Jordan Reeves decided to create a superhero prosthetic that boasted a function capable of inspiring happiness and joy — i.e., a 3D-printed prosthetic arm that shoots glitter with the simple pull of a string.
“We’ve always encouraged the growth of 3D printing, because it’s more affordable,” says Jen Lee Reeves, Jordan’s mom and the creator of the site Born Just Right. “I feel like the engineers building these hands are really great, but they don’t know the body. There’s a revolution that’s emerging where doctors and experts with degrees that help the body need to know more about hacking the body with more affordable tools.”
What’s been particularly frustrating for the Reeves family has been finding a prosthetic that not only wouldn’t break the bank, but would also capable of fitting on Jordan’s arm. Typically, prosthetic designers manufacture devices that are compatible for people with working elbows. However, considering Jordan’s left arm ends right above the elbow joint, most existing designs do not work. This leaves the Reeves family settling on expensive prosthetics that Jordan will more than likely grow out of incredibly quickly.
This was one of the main reasons Jordan decided to participate in Superhero Cyborgs 2.0 — to create what she’s now calling “Project Unicorn.” At the conclusion of the exclusive event, the kids presented their finished products to employees from Autodesk and KIDmob — a kid-integrated design firm located in the Bay Area. After each participant showed off their creations, they were partnered with a mentor who will collaborate with them over the next six months to improve and upgrade their original designs.
Concerning Jordan’s sparkle cannon, even here mom acknowledges that it’s a tad impractical, but is infatuated with how the program has empowered her daughter to think creatively. Sam Hobish, Jordan’s mentor, says he’s already taking to the task of improving Project Unicorn. “I’ve been talking to my colleagues in electronics and materials development about ways we can create some kind of pressurized system that shoots out sparkles more effectively,” he said. Additionally, Hobish intends to work with Jordan for longer than six months to help her develop a prosthetic capable of accomplishing a wide range of tasks.
“I plan to work until we get something she really likes,” Hobish states. “If that means we make new prototypes over the course of a year, I’m fine with that. I’ll keep going until someone tells me to stop.”
Along with Hobish’s determination, Jordan remains focused on manufacturing a prosthetic she can use every day. Considering she’s just 10 years old, she wants to improve Project Unicorn to help her FaceTime her friends or to watch movies. However, it seems she also has her sights set on helping the family.
“I could hold heavy things like our groceries,” Jordan says. “It might actually have a hand on it. It started out as one thing and then it grew into something even cooler, and I’m designing it to make it better.”
Who knew it would be a group of elementary school-aged kids helping revolutionize the prosthetic arm industry?