Monroe County Area Student Gets New Robotic Hand

Jun 26, 2014

An eighth-grader at a Carleton middle school now has a robotic right hand thanks to school staff members' creativity and a 3D printer.

The Monroe News reports that Airport Community Schools' staff members made the hand for 14-year-old Robbie McKnight. He is a Wagar Middle School eighth-grader whose right hand did not develop fully in the womb.

One of the hand's creators was schools director of technology Mark Funchion. He says the hand can pick up small objects of up to about 15 pounds.

With a flick of his wrist, Robbie McKnight can move five plastic digits close together to pick up objects.

The movement, commonplace for most people, was something Robbie, 14, hadn't been able to experience with his right hand before.

Now he has a robotic hand thanks to Airport Community Schools' staff creativity and a 3D printer.

Robbie, an eighth-grader at Wagar Middle School, was born with amniotic band syndrome, which occurs when a fetus is entangled in the amniotic bands in the womb. Blood flow is restricted affecting the baby's development. Often, different anomalies can occur depending on which body part is affected. For Robbie, his right hand did not develop fully and he was born without developed fingers and thumb. Where fingers and a thumb should be, he has small nubs that limit movement.

"Having fingers makes me feel more normal," Robbie told the Monroe News.

The creation of a hand for Robbie began about a year ago when robotics teacher Angela Stauder showed students a video in class about the MakerBot 3D printer creating mechanical hands.

 At first, her student didn't enter her mind.

"The first two times I showed the video, I didn't think of Robbie," Stauder said. "Then, by the third time, I knew this is something I wanted to do for Robbie."

The teacher shared the video with Superintendent John Krimmel about the same time he had been talking with the technology department about its 3D printer, which wasn't running properly. 

"I told our tech department that I know a specific brand of printer that may be just what we are looking for," Krimmel said. 

Airport bought the same model used in the video before setting to work on the hand. The printer, used by the computer-assisted drafting class, was paid for through the career technical consortium program. 

"The timing was perfect," Krimmel said. 

Mark Funchion, director of technology, and Aaron Gurgul, network technician, set to work on the creation of the hand, which has blue fingers attached to a plastic mold that Robbie slips over his arm. 

"It took 5  1/2 hours to print," Funchion said. "We probably have at least 10 man-hours or more for the assembly." 

The creation of the hand was "a lot of trial and error," including four hours to determine how the index finger could work, Funchion said. 

Gurgul said the hand is made from ABS plastic filament along with stainless steel hardware to connect the pieces, an orthopedic plastic, which was molded to Robbie's arm by Shawn Mero, an occupational therapist with the Monroe County Intermediate School District. 

The hand moves together at the same time, so Robbie isn't able to move the fingers individually, but as a unit. 

"I'd like to be able to learn to write with it," he said. 

The hand can pick up small objects up to about 15 pounds, Funchion said.