Mechanical Hands From A MakerBot: The Magic Of Robohand

When Richard Van As, a master carpenter in Johannesburg, South Africa, decided to make a set of mechanical fingers, it wasn’t just for fun. He’d lost four of the fingers on his right hand in an unfortunate work accident. For a tradesman like Rich, having a disabled hand is a big professional detriment, so Richard decided on the day of his the incident that he would use the tools available to him to remedy his situation. Watch the inspiring video above to hear how Richard’s project, Robohand, is changing lives with patience, spirit, and a MakerBot Replicator 2.

Getting Started

MakerBot heard about the Robohand project in January 2013. Richard had been trading ideas with Ivan Owen, a collaborator in Washington State, for several months. Ivan used his prior experience with mechanical prop hands to make design suggestions, while Richard attempted to replicate the designs in his workshop.


The process was taking weeks and months per cycle. For us here at MakerBot, that was too much wasted time. We knew our 3D printer, the MakerBot Replicator 2, could take this important work to new heights. We saw their collaboration and the work they were doing as groundbreaking, and we asked Ivan and Richard to accept a donation from us: a MakerBot Replicator 2 for each of them, one in Washington, and another in South Africa.

If the tool was useful to them, we hoped they would share their work on for the world to download. It turns out the MakerBots were incredibly useful, and the guys have followed through on their promise. Just hours after they received their packages from us here in Brooklyn, the two collaborators were sharing files back and forth, testing the design in one place and doing another iteration on the other side of the world. Richard says it took the prototyping process down from weeks to just 20 minutes.

But that’s only half the story.

Giving A Hand

Robohand has grown far beyond the goal of making a set of fingers just for Richard. When the power of desktop 3D printing and MakerBot entered the picture, Richard began to realize how quickly he could refine a design for other people who have lost their fingers, or who were born without fingers. After posting his own story, he received emails and Facebook messages from parents whose children were candidates for a Robohand of their own. One of these children was five-year-old Liam.

The condition Amniotic Band Syndrome is poorly understood, but the effects of it are pretty clear. Children are often born without extremities, especially fingers and toes, when fibrous bands in the womb prevent these parts from developing normally. It’s this condition that caused Liam to be born with no fingers on his right hand. The cost of purchasing a traditional prosthesis was far too much for the family, especially since Liam is a young and fast growing boy who would outgrow a prosthesis in a few months.

Liam was given a Robohand just days after Richard and Ivan received their MakerBots in January, 2013, and he has already been fitted for his second. The word spread, and other kids in the Johannesburg area like Liam with Amniotic Band Syndrome have received their own Robohands, sized just for them. The files, including the assembly instructions, have been posted online at Thingiverse, and they have been downloaded over 3,800 times by people around the globe.

What Is A Robohand?

A Robohand is a set of mechanical fingers that open and close to grasp things based on the motion of the wrist. When the wrist folds and contracts, the cables attaching the fingers to the base structure cause the fingers to curl. Nearly all the parts of a Robohand are 3D printed on MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D printers.

Ivan, who played a big part in the initial design stages of Robohand, says he studied the anatomy of crab legs and human fingers to get the basic muscle and tendon structure. The result is a simple assembly that Richard believes anyone can make themselves. While a full set of prosthetic fingers may cost thousands of dollars, all of the Robohand parts that are made on the MakerBot Replicator 2 add up to roughly a few dollars in material cost, with the total mechanical hand costing around $150 (USD).

Who Needs A Robohand?

Amniotic Band Syndrome affects 1 in 1,200 live births.

About 80% of cases of Amniotic Band Syndrome involve the loss or malformation of fingers and hands.

Finger amputations are the most common amputation in the US, accounting for over 90% of all amputations, according to various reports.

How Do I Get A Robohand?

Robohand was not imagined as a service or a product. Instead, Richard has shared the design files and instructions for creating a Robohand on Thingiverse so that people around the world can download, customize, print, and assemble Robohands for themselves or for others.

So far, we’ve heard stories of Robohands being made for children and adults in the US, Canada, and Thailand. Are you a MakerBot owner who can give this incredible gift to someone in your community?

Get Involved

There’s still a lot to be done. Richard has given hands-on help to a few of the people within his reach, but Robohand needs your help in order to get to the people who need it most.

Want to spread the word? Share this video with your friends on Twitter or Facebook.
Looking to to support the cause? Check out Robohand’s Indiegogo campaign.
Are you an occupational therapist or prosthetist? Leave a comment below!

Make a Robohand

The design files and assembly instructions for Robohand can be found on Thingiverse.

Robohand’s creators would like to empower others around the world to use their files and create and print in 3D Robohands of their own, and they are not in the mechanical hand business. They created Robohand out of the goodness of their heart. Now it’s time to provide the files to the world and see what other good can come from them!

Robohand uses the following tools to make their mechanical hands:

MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer
MakerBot PLA Filament
● Stainless steel hardware
● Thermo-forming orthoplastic
● Elastic bands
● Nylon cable

The full bill of materials is listed here.

Tagged with 23 comments

23 Comments so far

  • Jon Wagner
    May 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    why are you trying to replicate the shape of the human hand-what is the advantage? it would be much easier to control a 3 prong Closing/opening claw with detachable appendages for different activities. 4 fingers and a thumb us great when controlled by hundreds of tiny muscles, but not when controlled by a few cables. you should completely revamp the engineering..i have several ideas in my head that would be vastely superior.

  • David
    May 26, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Amazing! What you afforded to those in need of the Robohand is applaudable . I will keep your site in my contact list.
    Richard, thank you, it’s people like you that gives hope to this world.
    You’re doing good my friend, you’re doing good.

  • Trevor Dawson
    June 10, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Hi Richard, Wat n fantastiese hulp vir n kind sonder n hand. My kleinseun is gebore met net sy duim en gedeeltelike palm aan die linkerkant. My vraag natuurlik is nou sal jy so iets vir hom kan doen. Soos jy vir jouself kan spreek , sonder vingers kan jy niks optel of of vir jouself doen soos veters vasmaak of vurk hanteer of net n simpel knoop vasmaak nie. .
    Hoor graag van jou.


  • Marcella Zarifis OTR/L
    June 18, 2013 at 10:39 am

    This is very exciting! What an impact you are making to so many people. I am wondering if you have had inquiries as to people with spinal cord injuries …if this would be appropriate for them. I’m thinking in particular of those with only wrist and forearm use that develop their tenodesis grip to eventually perform a gross grasp of some kind. I have a former patient that I would love to share this with and would like a bit more education before I do so. I know how expensive, overwhelming, and time consuming regular prosthetics can be….thank you for such a wonderful contribution!

    Marcella Zarifis OTR/L

  • Dr. Sharon Gwinn, PhD, OTR/L
    June 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    This is truly wonderful! I work with many people who could use this device and am willing to volunteer time to help fit and train people how to use the hand. Contact me if you need assistance.

  • Ruth Maude
    June 19, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    This is so wonderful.

    I’ve added your video to my site and I will create a new page with information.

    Thank you!

  • Laurie
    June 20, 2013 at 8:16 am

    I have spinal cord damage. I have full wrist and forearm use. Very little finger mobility. Forefinger and thumb unusable. If this could help me, it would change my life. The miracle I’ve dreamed about? Thank you.

  • Donald
    June 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    This takes the machine from toy or toymaker status to something that can change someone’s life. Amazing! Perhaps you could work on other prosthetics as well.

  • Donald
    June 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Another thought. This could be useful in places where there is ongoing war. I could imagine a Makerbot in a MASH unit.

  • Aaron Grand
    July 3, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I was amazed when I heard the story on NPR. I have ordered a makerbot replicator to try to use this to help some of my patients.

    Are the parts available in other file types? The makerware software doesn’t seem ideal for modification of the design. I did find 123d design, but it requires .sat, .smb, or .stp files. As best I can tell, the .stl files are really only for the actual printing of the parts….

  • christian
    September 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I will be happy to collaborate with your community Robohand, I am Mechatronic Engineer and here are some videos about prosthesis partial hand that I built in 2009 as my final project degree.

    This has a publication in a Cuban Biomechanical Journal here :

    I am looking as well for collaboration to raise a similar project here in my country Colombia , South america to buy a 3D printer and 3D scanner and give prothesis hand to the community.

    Looking forward to hear about you.

    Kind regards.

  • Joseph Calvo
    September 14, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Hi. My name is Joe Calvo and I’m a student and president of the Student Occupational Therapy Association at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I’ve seen a few articles about 3d printer made hand prosthesis and am forming a student committee to make a proposal to our department chair to get materials and funding for 3d printers, materials, and hopefully further research and studies.

    I have the support of a couple OT hand therapists and clinicians, but am posting to see if I can get more information and/or resources directly from you, the source, and other professionals in engineering, business, research, etc. Please contact me when you get a chance. This technology and applications in therapy and healthcare are cutting edge, and my class is excited and motivated to build evidence and efficacy for its viability.

    Our goal is to further research and exposure of this product for clinical applications, and then hopefully build a presentation for the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in 2015.

    This is the part of the movie where we start changing the world for the better.

    Best wishes,
    Joe Calvo

  • AJ
    September 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm


    I have emailed you about two weeks ago inquiring about your 3D printer as my 3 year old beautiful daughter has been affected by ABS. Please email me with details on how to get started with Robohand..

    Thank you,

  • Ben Millstein
    September 16, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Hi AJ, thanks for reaching out to MakerBot. For you or any parent with a child affected by Amniotic Band Syndrome, RIT faculty member Jon Schull has started a database of MakerBot owners who have volunteered to print Robohands in their respective countries. See for more. Thanks!

  • nafeesuddin
    September 21, 2013 at 10:52 am

    dear sir .Richard hope you are fine,sorry to say i am not so happy because my mother is missing your creation .she has palm but no fingers by born.and she is serving our family like a normal mother she never complain so but i feel the pain of having no fingers and pray to god to send a solution for .so one fine day i got see your video and showed my mom and she watched u like watching gods messenger .to us you are just gods messenger .sir i need your cooperation badly please solve my mommas problem ? dear sir i am waiting for your email.we live in Bangladesh its a country near india. you are most welcome any time .our (address: road ,no;3/a house, no:14 dhanmondi Dhaka Bangladesh ,post box:1209).sir plz help us and show us the easy way to get the hands from you.god bless.

  • Lukas
    September 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I admire your work and love the spirit of the open source!

    I’m currently working on a thesis based on your Robohand. It’s about human grasping and designing an anthropomorphic prosthesis. And there are some recent academical approaches in evaluating a hand prosthesis design without the need to print it. Therefore changes could be evaluated way faster and hopefully I can contribute to your awesome project!

    In order to evaluate your design I would like to ask if you could provide me with the CAD files of the hand (not the stl ones from thingiverse) or even better with some technical drawings.

    Thanks a lot


  • Romeo
    September 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    So when this thing is attached to this bale
    wire, needs to be straight underneath the foregrip, so you can fine tune your cast to any style of bait angling world of tanks oor any type of fishing.
    These aree the wheels that have a physical Microsoft Store location.
    And the card is kind of an a replicon mixed with cowboy.
    This is a good spot to fish because you can cast upstream – – and then the velocity is here.
    And that’s it Seriously, you have to add this.

  • jimmys
    October 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    hi i’m dimitris I’m from Greece and I’m 17 years old,
    I was born with 2 fingers on my left hand so today i show this video posted on facebook and i was very happy so can you make a hand for me and send a massage on my email about what price the hand have and how can contact with you so if you see that com help me pleas i need you!

  • Ian
    October 12, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    Great work!

    Do you think it is possible to adapt it to work for someone who has intact but paralysed digits?

  • susan casserley
    February 10, 2014 at 12:03 am

    This is a very touching and inspiring story: A kansas teen made a robohand for a little kid based on his mom reading about this and using free open source plans on the internet and the 3d printer at the local Johnson County Library

  • lam dep sau sinh bang nghe
    March 13, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader amused.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog
    (well, almost…HaHa!) Great job. I really loved what you had
    to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  • Clarice Torrey, OTR/L
    March 16, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I’m an occupational therapist who would be interested and available to help with the fabrication and/or consultation of 3d prosthetics.

  • Charles White, OTR/L
    January 17, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    I am an occupational therapist and am very interested in what your doing. I currently am treating several patients that may benefit from this technology.


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