MakerBot Stories | Project Daniel Takes Robohand to Sudan


Daniel Omar lives in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, a country divided by civil war. Two years ago, when he was 14, Daniel was tending his family’s cows when a Sudanese government plane dropped a bomb. Daniel took shelter behind a tree, which protected most of his body, but he lost both his arms. “Without hands, I can’t do anything,” Daniel told Time magazine then. “If I could have died, I would have.”

Daniel is now 16. In November, he picked up a fork to feed himself for the first time in two years using a prosthetic arm with parts made on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. The arm was made by Mick Ebeling, the CEO of Not Impossible Labs, a California organization devoted to “technology for the sake of humanity.”

According to Elliot Kotek, the chief of content for Not Impossible Labs, the design for Daniel’s prosthetic arm was adapted from the Robohand, an open-source project designed by Richard van As, a South African woodworker who lost several fingers in an accident, and Ivan Owen, a prop maker in Seattle, Wash., and supported by MakerBot. “Richard had already created the Roboarm, and he also had modified the original Robohand so that it was enclosed at the top of the hand,” says Kotek; this change will better protect the hands from the elements.

Not Impossible Labs brought van As to Los Angeles for a maker weekend. Van As has been spreading Robohand technology around the world, and the Robohand designs have been downloaded more than 77,000 times from Thingiverse. “Richard is really out to make a difference on a humanitarian level,” Kotek said. “That spirit rubs off on us.”

On his way to Sudan, Ebeling stopped in Johannesburg with his team for a week. Van As trained them in fitting the prosthetics and helped them plan for contingencies (no electrical power, no boiling water) that would not have been worth considering in southern California.

Not Impossible Labs brought two MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printers to Mother of Mercy Hospital, near the border with independent South Sudan. The heat in Sudan, Kotek says, was “pretty intense,” so hot that the filament did not cool quickly enough. Ebeling improvised by pointing electric fans at the 3D printer, but that only blew insects onto the forming plastic parts, so “a lot of printing happens at night.”

Ebeling spent five days in Sudan training seven local fabricators to make prosthetics. With two 3D printers, they can produce one a week, and costs are a fraction of what prosthetics cost in the west. Once the 3D printers (Not Impossible Labs bought one from MakerBot and one from the Microsoft Store in Los Angeles) and the computers are taken care of, Kotek says, each new arm requires about $100 worth of filament, medical orthoplastic, and metal.

Sudan has tens of thousands of amputees, and both climate and geopolitics continue to pose challenges. Just before Christmas, when the hospital was running low on filament, Not Impossible Labs sent 16 rolls of MakerBot PLA Filament. The filament has made it as far as Nairobi, Kenya, but the civil war has flared up again. Kotek hopes to get the filament there before the rainy season begins. “When the wet season comes, it’s going to be hard to get them anything, the roads just turn to mush.”

If Project Daniel can surmount these challenges and scale up, it could transform the lives of tens of thousands of amputees in Sudan, and others around the world. If you are moved to help, Project Daniel would welcome donations. And if you’re not moved yet, watch this video produced by Not Impossible Labs, which shows Daniel’s wounds and his new prosthetics.