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makerbot and the robohand

Check out that 3D printed hand
3D printing has been all over the news for the past year or so (see here and here.) It's been a source of media frenzy; this idea that some day soon every house on the block will have the capability to print small plastic parts on a whim. And I have been skeptical.

Industrial designers have had a head-start with this technology. I first encountered a Z-corp powder printer as a co-op at Fisher-Price in early 2007. It was (and still is) an incredibly efficient way to prototype parts that were digitally designed. When I returned for a second co-op quarter a few months later, the shop guys at Fisher-Price had already started using more SLA (closer to plastic) prototyping. Even in 07, the field was evolving rapidly.

It's an awesome process to watch—there's something magical to seeing an object appear where there wasn't one before. And it makes a lot of sense for product development. But what the heck is an average Joe going to do with it? And what's more, if the general public gets the hang of a process that has been the realm of designers up until this point, does that negate the role of designers?

But then I came across robohand, a prosthetic hand built using a makerbot. The project started as a collaboration between two guys: one in South Africa and the other in Washington. And the technology made a seemingly improbable project possible. The video below is well worth 10 of your minutes. It will leave you feeling good about humanity and wondering what people will dream up next.