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> > > DoesLiverpool: DesktopProsthetics workshop and exhibition at FACT

DoESLiverpool are developing an iteration of the Enabling the Future project within the 'Build Your Own: Tools For Sharing' Exhibition at FACT in Liverpool until 31 August 2015 with the Crafts Council and in association with Norfolk Museums Service and Norwich Hackspace. Review by Susan Bennett

Ross Dalziel, Patrick Fenner and Adrian McEwen who are permanent deskers at DoES Liverpool are helping facilitate and support a ‘production line’ area in the FACT show within their main gallery on the ground floor to 3D print open source designs of upper limb prosthetics. It’s inspired by eleven year old Baylee's family who have used the workshop to print hand parts for her independently. 

Walking into the third and final workshop workshop at FACT, I felt like I’d wandered into a family gathering - a large table dotted with packets of crisps, plastic drink bottles, tubs of nuts; kids splining around, offering screws, multi coloured plastic parts, passing scissors and elastic to mums and dads; many heads and hands busy making, doing; half-finished models strewn on the table. Everyone was having great fun. Not what you would expect in a place where prosthetics were being made.

The aim of the workshop was to produce ‘The Raptor Hand,’ an upper limb prosthetic for children who are members of REACH in the NorthWest, the association for children with upper limb deficiency. Facilitated by DoESLiverpool, families have over the last few weeks been playing, experimenting and understanding what prosthetics are, learning how to use 3D printing techniques to produce the parts and on this day, putting them together and finding out what their children can do with them.

Leena was busy threading elastic and wires into a red and yellow three part plastic contraption – the gauntlet which would fasten to her child’s arm, the wrist section and the long articulated Raptor fingers. ‘Dylan’s hand was measured so they could use the Handomatic software and produce a template for the many pieces which would make up his Raptor Hand.’ As a family they chose the colours and now Dylan, her beaming three year old, looked on as she assembled the resulting 3D printed joints and connectors. 

Ross from DoES explained how the Raptor technology was originally developed in the US where Ivan Owen co-designed the first 3D printed mechanical hand and made it available on the internet, free of charge. Via Enabling the Future over 1500 devices have been delivered around the world.

"Our role was to use our IT expertise in 3D printers and together with REACH, we made it happen. We’ll keep the 3D printers so that if people do need to print more hands in the future, they can and we will support them."

Indeed, just that day, they ran out of some smaller connecting parts and the two 3D printers busily set to work and produced them while they waited! And this is one of the key features of these hands, the parts are easy to produce, cheap and anyone can put them together.

Jason then comes over to make sure the parts Leena has been fitting together are tensioned correctly, so I ask him how these Raptors work. He calls: ‘Hey Baylee, grab your hand and come over here…’

Eleven year old Bailey, who has had her pink Raptor Hand for three months, slips it on and fastens the Velcro at the back. She flexes the fingers by wriggly movements of her wrist and skilfully picks up a plastic beaker. ‘I have two Raptor Hands, this has extra rubber grips on the fingers, the other glows in the dark. I’d love an attachment that allows me to hold a tennis racket properly or hold a kayak paddle - with nails so I can paint them.’

After two hours of fiddling, Dylan’s hand is now ready try. While Mum breast feeds her baby in the corner, Dad settles Dylan on his knee and the raptor is attached. After a few adjustments he is happily waving it around, flexing the fingers and joins the other kids in the workshop vying to pick up a glue stick. Parents cluster with cameras to record the moment and there are few dry eyes in this co-creative community.  

By working with Reach in the NorthWest, the association for children with upper limb deficiency, DoESLiverpool will be helping a number of children (primarily) from the North-West and, when the exhibition tours, East Anglia where Norwich Hackspace are assisting. The exhibition will further raise awareness within the Reach community and the general public about some of the uses of 3d printing when it tours to Norwich, later this autumn. 

Visit FACT to find out more about their collaborative IT projects and the exhibition on show until 31 August