Prosthetic Arms 3-D Printed for Sudan War Victims

Stephen Levy

May 13, 2014

3 Min Read
Prosthetic Arms 3-D Printed for Sudan War Victims

State-of-the-art 3-D printing technology is now helping amputees in the war-torn Nuba Mountains in South Sudan, primarily due to the efforts of Mick Ebeling and his Not Impossible Labs (Venice, CA).

Daniel Omar, the first recipient of the 3-D printed arms, was only 14 years old when both his arms were blown off in a Sudanese government airstrike. After Ebeling's visit, he was able to feed himself for the first time in two years with his new 3-D printed prosthetic arm.

How this came about is a lesson in the power of crowd-sourcing. Ebeling says that one morning, he found himself reading about Daniel and thought, "We have to help this kid and others like him. But how?" Thus the Daniel Hand project was born.

According to Not Impossible's press release, the Daniel Hand came to fruition "by crowdsourcing a dream team of innovators"  that included the South African inventor of the Robohand, an Australian MIT neuroscientist, and a 3-D printing company owner from Northern California to crowd-solve the 3D-printable prosthesis project. The project was supported by New York-based precision engineering company Precipart and by Intel. Yes, that Intel.

Writing for SingularityHub, Jason Dorrier says that Ebeling learned of the open-source 3-D printed prosthetic hand called the Robohand invented by Richard Van As and Ivan Owen, and used that as a starting point.

According to Dorrier, "Van As gave Ebeling a crash course in 3D printing on Robohand design and assembly, and just three months after reading the article about Daniel, Ebeling touched down in Sudan."

Ebeling found Daniel, now 16 years old, living in a 70,000-person refugee camp in Sudan's Nuba Mountains. "Over two days," Dorrier says, "Ebeling and his team printed and assembled a new left arm for Daniel. A plastic cylinder and hand attach to Daniel's upper arm. Nylon cords connect elbow and hand, allowing Daniel to close his hand by flexing his elbow."

Using nothing more than a piece of string, a lump of plastic, a computer, and a 3D printer, Ebeling manufactured the simple, functional prosthetic arm right in the refugee camp. After Daniel had his own prothesis, Ebeling and his team set about teaching others to print and assemble the 3D prostheses with the help of Tom Catena, MD, an American doctor working at the refugee camp. By the time the team left the camp, the local trainees had successfully printed and fitted another two arms, proving the project will have lasting benefit beyond the team's presence. 

"We're hopeful that other children and adults in other regions of Africa, as well as other continents around the globe, will utilize the power of this new technology for similar beginnings," said Ebeling. "We believe Daniel's story will ignite a global campaign. The sharing of the prostheses' specifications, which Not Impossible will provide free and open-source, will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet, to use technology for its best purpose: restoring humanity."

Stephen Levy is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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