According to advancedamputees.com, there are over 1 million limb amputations performed globally every year, which translates to a rate of one limb lost every thirty seconds. Although partial hand / finger amputees constitute a large portion of this statistic, due to perhaps the precise abilities of the human finger and its relatively small form factor, the range of prosthetic devices available to partial hand amputees has remained limited despite advances in manufacturing and biomedical technologies.
This summer, I have been working on developing a low-cost prosthetic device for multi-digit partial hand amputees. This project is done in collaboration with a community of volunteers aiming to create low cost prosthetic devices for individuals across the globe, known as e-Nable. Perhaps the most challenging yet rewarding aspect of this project has been just how much independence I have had. The project has stretched me by challenging me to dive headfirst into a field which I am largely unfamiliar with, and by challenging me to create a final product which I, until recently, had thought would take years to produce.
Additionally, this project has stretched me by challenging my ideas about intellectual property and idea ownership. Many times, friends and family have asked me about the potential for profitability in developing a useful device for a market desperate for new innovation: current partial hand prosthetic devices are not cheap, and the introduction of a new, less expensive device could see much financial success. However, the e-Nable community isn’t concerned with such hypotheticals, as volunteers will often freely share their designs, developed over dozens or hundreds of hours, to anyone with a computer. The “open-source” spirit of the e-Nable community challenges capitalistic ideas deeply ingrained in our western milieu, encourages global collaboration, and has lead to the development of some truly amazing technology.
Working among community is both inspiring and exciting, and something I hope to do well beyond the conclusion of this summer.