Project Daniel is a rare beacon of light in the otherwise war-torn area of South Sudan: researchers recently pioneered 3D printing as a means of building prosthetic arms for child amputees.
According to the official press release, Project Danielwhich is funded by Not Impossible, LLCopened the worlds first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan. In November of 2013, Not Impossible CEO Mick Ebeling fitted double arm amputee Daniel Omar with a prosthetic arm, allowing the 14-year-old to grip objects, shake hands, and feed himself for the first time in two years.
With 3D printing on the rise in the medical world, both to create prosthetics and real human tissue, Project Daniel hopes to expand its provision of prosthetic printers to other regions of South Sudan, Africa, and beyond.
Daniel, the projects namesake, lost both arms at age 12. During an aerial attack, he wrapped his body around a tree in an attempt to protect himself. While he survived, both of his upper limbs were blown off.
Hes not alone: according to the Project Daniel video, the war in South Sudan has left 50,000 amputees, many of them children. However, Daniel happened to be the subject of a 2012 story in TIME magazine, which caught Mick Eberlings attention.
Eberling read the story and felt compelled to help, so he brought together a prosthetics and 3D printing team. Notable among the contributors was Richard Van As, the creater of Robohand. Van As design for a low-cost, mechanical prosthesis that could be swapped out for a bigger model as children grew became the model for Daniels prosthesis.
Surprisingly Simple Design
In contrast to modern prosthetic limbs, which are designed to be ever-more realistic and have advanced sensitivity and capability, Daniels new arm isnt fancy. The Robohand, constructed of disparate plastic pieces and cables, looks more like a primitive robot skeleton than anything else.
However, it is functional. The prosthesis, which can be printed for around $100 as opposed to the tens of thousands it costs for a myoelectric prosthesis, begins with printing heat-moldable plastic to wrap around the patients limb. Once that anchor is created, the hand, digits, and digit cables are printed and attached to the plastic. Thats it.
The hand works by raising the wrist up or down, which causes the digit cables to tense or relax in a gripping motion. Moving the elbow side to side also pulls on the cabling in such a way as to allow patients to grasp and release objects. Not Impossible is still working on making the prosthesis better able to handle heavy objects, but for many day-to-day activities, its completely capable.
According to Eberlings interview with The Guardian, attaching Daniels new arm and then watching the teenager feed himself was a highlight that was right up there with watching my kids being born. And Daniel? He was all smiles.
3D Printers for All?
After that initial success in South Sudan, Eberling and Project Daniel wanted to ensure that other child amputees had access to the technology.
Not Impossible now offers the open-source printing design for free, with the hope that it will spread around the globe. The company also left a set of 3D printers in Daniels village and trained locals in their use. Currently, the South Sudanese lab prints one prosthesis per week for those child victims of the war.
Eberling best summed up Project Daniels potential: The sharing of the prostheses specifications will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet, to use technology for its best purpose: restoring humanity.