Students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and other volunteers are giving children in Israel, Gaza, Judea and Samaria, Syria and other countries a helping hand – literally. They have developed and are producing mechanical and robotic prosthetic hands for children using 3D printing.

Prof. Alon Wolf’s Biorobotics and Biomechanics lab (BRML) is tikun olam (repairing the world) in action. Together with Haifa3D, a non-profit organization, students from the Technion’s faculties of mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science work in the BRML on this unique project. 

Functional prosthetic hands are not provided for free to anyone in Israel nor in many places around the world. These prosthetic hands can cost tens of thousands of dollars. For a child who is growing constantly, it’s impractical even to buy one. Technion students are introduced to these children by Haifa3D, a local nonprofit organization run by volunteers (some are students themselves). The students have perfected a method to make the mechanical and robotic hands inexpensively on a 3D printer. 

The children are able to choose their own colors and logos for the hands – even with prints of Batman, Superman and Spiderman – making them proud of their new hands instead of ashamed of them. From not being able to catch a ball and do other simple tasks their lives are greatly improved.

Israeli children are not the only recipients of Technion’a 3D prosthetic hands. The mechanical engineering students tutored a group from the West Bank on a special visit to the lab to make the bionic hands themselves on easily purchased 3D printers. The designs are provided to the world through the global organization e-Nable, a community that creates and shares open source designs for assistive devices, and they are also shared on the BRML webpage.

Wolf, who also serves as Technion vice president for external relations and resource development, explained that “this is one of those outreach activities that has a large impact on society and educates our students to become leaders, not just technological or entrepreneurial leaders but leaders in impact that they bring to society with the knowledge they acquire at the Technion during their studies. This is the beauty and strength of the Technion.”

Very complex geometric shapes can be created, and designs can be personalized to a wide range of anatomical abnormalities relatively easy,” added Yair Herbst and Shunit Polinsky, who are among the Technion volunteers. “This fabrication paradigm has many advantages over existing fabrication methods, first and foremost, the cost of the production is very low.”