3D printing helps amputees

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Not Impossible, a California-based media and technology company, has embarked on a project to use 3D printing to provide hands and arms for amputees in South Sudan and the war-torn Nuba Mountains.

Project Daniel, as it has come to be known, is spearheaded by Not Impossible's founder Mick Ebeling, who enlisted a team of innovators (including the South African inventor of the robohand, Richard Van As, an Australian MIT neuroscientist, and a 3D printing company owner from North Carolina) to crowd-solve the 3D printable prostheses.

According to Ebeling, the prosthetic hand printed in 3D allowed 16-year-old South Sudanese teenager Daniel, who was situated in a 70 000-person refugee camp in Yida, South Sudan, to feed himself for the first time in two years.

"After Daniel had his own 'hand', with the help of American doctor, Dr Tom Catena, the team set about teaching South Sudanese to print and assemble the 3D prostheses. By the time we returned to the US, local trainees in South Sudan had successfully printed and fitted another two arms," adds Ebeling.

The initiative, he says, successfully unfolded in a region where a ceasefire had expired and fighting had escalated, and the people who were being taught about utilising the 3D printers were barely familiar with computers, let alone the idea of 3D printers.

"The sharing of the prostheses' specifications, which Not Impossible will provide free and open source, will enable any person in need, anywhere on the planet," he says.

In 2010, Not Impossible created the Eyewriter, eye-tracking glasses with free, open source software that enabled a paralysed graffiti artist, TEMPT, to draw and communicate using only his eyes. The technology was lauded in Time magazine's "Top 50 Inventions of 2010", and also named in Gizmodo's eight incredible health innovations that transform lives.

"We're hopeful that other children and adults in other regions of Africa, as well as other continents around the globe, will utilise the power of technology for similar beginnings," says Ebeling. "We believe Daniel's story will ignite a global campaign."

Elliot V Kotek, Not Impossible's content chief and co-founder, remarks that the company is on the precipice of a can-do-make community that is reaching critical mass.

"There's no shortage of knowledge, and we are linking the brightest minds and creative problem-solvers around the globe," says Kotek.

Project Daniel is just the tip of the iceberg to using technology for its best purpose - restoring humanity, he says.

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