Long-distance collaborators create inexpensive prosthetic finger

When South African craftsman Richard Van As lost most of the fingers from his right hand in an industrial accident, he decided to try and create a prosthetic finger to regain some of his lost mobility. In order to bring this about, Richard recruited the help of Washington State native Ivan Owen, after being impressed with the latter's mechanical hand prop which he had posted on YouTube. The result could be a boon to amputees everywhere.

Despite living over 10,000 miles apart, Richard and Ivan set to work exchanging emails, photos and drawings while conversing via Skype, in order to construct a working prototype. The arduous process of actually manufacturing the prosthetic finger began with Richard creating a plastic replica of his hand for Ivan’s reference, ensuring that both were working from the same page, and from here the design was refined at length.

The current prototype is held in place by a hand mount, which acts like a glove and is formed to suit the amputee's hand. The prosthetic finger itself consists of a rigid lever arm, pulleys, and finger tip with grip pad. It’s an approach which is much less high-tech in comparison to some other prosthetic fingers, like that made by Touch Bionics – however, it’s also far more affordable, and significantly increases Richard's ability to pick up objects.

Richard and Ivan are currently attempting to raise funds to help advance the prototype, and have just under two weeks left to reach their US$5,000 target. The money raised so far has already paid for a milling machine, while future donations will go toward the cost of materials, tools and travel.

Rather than patent their work, Richard and Ivan have decided to give the design away for free in order to help other people benefit from their research, and the eventual goal is to offer the prosthetic finger at no cost if funding can pay for all the relevant materials. The pair have also posited the idea of offering it to others as an inexpensive self-assembly kit.