When entrepreneur Richard Van As visited Mirman School in January 2014, what he set in motion would reach through Mirman classrooms, all the way to South America.
Mr. Van As is the creator of Robohand — a functional prosthetic hand made with a low-cost 3-D printer. Robohand has received considerable publicity around the world for its inspirational story and its pioneering technology.
After seeing Mr. Van As’ presentation, Mirman students Lola Rice, Joelle Rubeli, Jackson Novick, and Ben Cakir wanted to make a Robohand for someone in need.
All were students in Dr. Diane Flannery’s Innovation and Design Thinking class, which helps foster students’ creativity and problem-solving, with a vision spanning from the personal and local to the global.
One challenge: finding a suitable recipient. Mirman technology assistant Ana Nallar approached the team about her 10-year-old nephew, Andrés, who lives in Bolivia and was born without fingers on one hand. His family had been unable to afford any previously available prosthetics. However, the family could raise the relatively small amount needed to purchase the necessary screws and sheets of orthoplastic to create a Robohand.
The Mirman students enthusiastically dove in. In weekly meetings during LEAP (Learning Enhancement and Achievement Program) time, the students learned tool safety and began carefully configuring the correct size and functions that Andrés would need, printed all of the elements, and worked together to build the hand.
After many, many hours of work, the team completed a Robohand customized for Andrés on the day before their middle school graduation.
In the process, they gained useful skills: drilling, tapping, sanding, knot tying, thread locking, latex application, forming orthoplastic, 3-D digitizing, and 3-D printing. They also forged a connection to a faraway family and felt the gratification that the hand they’d built would bring joy to a young boy.