Engineers from UC Berkeley are using their genius to lend a helping hand – literally.
Researchers at the school’s CITRIS lab are working hard to create low-cost, customizable prosthetics made from 3-D printers, according to the engineering department’s magazine. For an 8-year-old girl named Sophie, their work means that she’ll finally be able to climb the monkey bars at school.
Sophie was born with symbrachydactyly, a condition which interrupts the normal development of finger bones. The condition affects an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 babies every year and can severely interfere with a child’s ability to partake in playtime activities.
When engineer and recent graduate Daniel Lim heard Sophie’s story from Chris Myers, a lab manager, he immediately knew he wanted to help.
"I studied engineering for the past five years, and I thought this is the first project where I can directly improve someone’s life," Lim told the magazine. "When I saw Sophie’s picture, I wanted to do this."
So, Lim and Myers worked together to take measurements of Sophie’s hand and design the prosthetic. She also had a say in its design, according to Myers.
"If she gets to help design it, then it’s hers and she’ll have a sense of ownership, and it won’t just be a fancy version of a store-bought version that we made in the lab," Myers told the engineering magazine. ‘I’m a big proponent of getting kids involved with technology at a young age, so they can know more about how their world works."
In order to keep costs low, they used parts printed from the same material as Legos. Though far less durable than the typical $10,000 to $40,000 prosthetic, this meant that Sophie’s new hand could cost less than $10 to make – a potential game changer for families who may not be able to afford much more.
Though Sophie has not yet been able to master the monkey bars, she did pull off a few cartwheels with her lab-made prosthetic, her mother said.
Lim told the magazine that he plans on continuing his research into prosthetics, perhaps even for a Ph.D.
"In the end," he told the magazine, "we want Sophie to be able to do the monkey bars."