By Julia Lull
August 31, 2015

With standard prosthetic hands costing anywhere from several thousand to a hundred thousand dollars, convincing insurance companies to buy new hands and arms for growing kids every couple of months is an impossible task.

After watching a YouTube video about 3D-printed prosthetics, RIT professor Jon Schull had an idea. With one YouTube comment, he harnessed an online community of volunteers and problem-solvers to work toward one goal—providing free, 3D-printable prosthetics to kids in need.

Two years later, Schull has taken his idea and turned it into a global network of almost 6,000 volunteers. To date, the e-NABLE network has printed over 1,500 devices in 50 countries, and the network continues to grow at a rapid pace.

e-NABLE’s wrist and elbow actuated prosthetics cost only $30-$50 apiece, and require up to three days worth of printer time and assembly. Schull’s volunteers are matched with a child in need, and provide the customized, completed hand or arm at no cost to the child’s family. e-NABLE’s network is currently working on making the devices available in other countries, as well as printing the hands with different skin tones and with different materials that will make the hands look more similar to the human hand.

While e-NABLE’s volunteers are spawning new variations of hands and arms faster than he can keep up with, Schull hopes to be able to expand his model to help solve new problems. He sees heads-up displays, text-to speech translators, and even gene printing in e-NABLE’s future.

“I believe we… have proven that there are probably hundreds of thousands of digital humanitarians ready willing and able to lend a metaphorical hand for the global good,” Schull said. “And so the…goal is to figure out what iceberg this is the emerging tip of.”

Write to Julia Lull at julia.lull@timeinc.com.

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