Offering a Helping Hand: High School Students Use 3D Technology to Help Kids with Missing Limbs

December 7, 2017

When you think of kids and technology, more often than not the image is of kids with their heads bowed over a cell phone as they frantically tap at the screen. However, in Novi, Michigan, a group of high school students are dismantling the stereotype one 3D printed project at a time.  


Two years ago, Kirsten Anderson and Fenton Lawler, members of the Novi High School robotics team Frog Force 503, sought to establish a chapter of e-NABLE (“a global network of passionate volunteers using 3D printing to give the world a ‘helping hand’.”) in their school. e-NABLE provides free 3D-printed limbs for kids who have lost a hand, arm or fingers due to war, disease or natural disaster.


They reached out to the Novi Public Library and asked if the library would be willing to partner with them to make their project a reality. Julie Farkas, the director of the library, sat down with Anderson and Lawler, and they set a goal: to make and assemble 200 prosthetic hands by the end of the 2017-18 school year.

While it seemed like a tall order, the students knew they had support from the li


brary, which provided the 3D printers, and e-NABLE, which provided the open-source software needed to program and print the 30 parts needed for each hand. They approached 4th grade classrooms in the Novi area for the labor needed to put the hands together because, as Anderson explained, “You piece them together like a puzzle – a lot like LEGOs®!”, and quickly filled up all the volunteer spots for the library’s Community 3D Hand Assembly Day event scheduled for December 14th.


Prior to this year, the Frog Force 503 team had made 70 prosthetics, and now that they’re close to accomplishing the goal they set two years ago, they’ve set a new goal: creating an actual bionic hand. As Anderson explained, “Robotics is about innovation and the new, more bionic [hands] use electronics.”


While having the opportunity to meet with a prosthetic surgeon and linking the robotics team with the e-NABLE chapter have been incredible experiences, both Anderson and Lawler say the best part of this project has been seeing the difference the prosthetics have made in the lives of the children who’ve received them. Two years ago, they made a hand for Misha, a little girl in the Russian Republic of Georgia who had been born without a hand. When they received a picture of Misha holding a Barbie for the first time, they knew it had been worth all the hard work.


Proving once again that learning new technological skills provides kids with the opportunity to do great things!

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