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Helping Hands

Prostheses made at BSU for those in need
Story Series
Bridgewater Magazine

A young girl in New York named Brielle (pictured above) has a prosthetic hand that allows her to climb up and down the stairs of her family’s deck, grip the handlebars of her bicycle and do many of the typical things youngsters love doing.

Brielle’s prosthetic hand, instead of costing tens of thousands of dollars, was produced for next to nothing. It was made with a 3-D printer. And it was made at Bridgewater State University’s Think Tank, the hub
of the institution’s new Makerspace network of labs and workshops.

“Words can’t express how much this means to us,” said Brielle’s mother, who asked that only her daughter’s first name be used. “Your team did an amazing job, and, without you guys, she wouldn’t be able to do what she is able to do.”

Of all the many amazing things created in BSU’s Makerspace labs, most impressive – and impactful – might be the prosthetic hands and arms for children and adults in need.

Thanks to 3-D printers and open source designs (software whose original source code is freely available to anyone for use or modification), a prosthetic limb that typically costs thousands of dollars can be created for as little as $50.

“People can’t afford them, especially for kids who outgrow them so quickly,” said senior Kevin Monteith, a computer science major who works at the Think Tank.

He and his brother, Robert, an analytical instrumentation engineer at the Dana Mohler-Faria Science and Mathematics Center who manages the various Makerspace labs, were working with the Bizarbots robotics club at Holbrook High School when they learned of a nonprofit organization called e-NABLE. Now, thanks to the brothers’ efforts, BSU is part of a large international network of volunteers who use 3-D printers to make free and low-cost prosthetic upper-limb devices.

Amanda Morrison, G’19, also assists the Monteiths with the project.

In addition to Brielle, one other person has been fitted with a 3-D printed prosthesis from BSU’s Makerspace, and as of mid-October, a third one was being prepared for another recipient.

The prostheses are sized by using a photograph of the intended recipient posing next to a ruler. Then, using the open source software, the prosthetic is designed and readied for one of the Think Tank’s 3-D printers.

Kevin said plans call for the incorporation of sensors and motors to make tomorrow’s prostheses even more responsive and lifelike.

He added that projects of this kind are their own reward. “It makes you feel great about the work you do,” he said.

One thing’s for sure, there’s a young girl in New York now able to tool around on her little bicycle and do so much more who is very appreciative for that work.

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