The average cost of a prosthetic varies anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on the technology inside. To add to that cost, they must be replaced every three-to-five years in adults, more often for growing children. While the technology is rapidly advancing in what these prostheses can do, the cost efficiency hasn’t caught up. At least, not yet.

e-NABLE is a foundation that is using modern technology and the innovative power of shared ideas to provide children and adults with inexpensive prosthetic hands around the globe. Using 3-D printing technologies and open sourcing, its community has worked to create an online forum that shares multiple blueprints of prosthetics so that anyone with a 3D printer can create these for someone in need.

“We like to say we are digital humanitarians,” says Jon Schull, president of the e-NABLE Foundation and research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for MAGIC (Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity). Schull started the community after he saw the success of one of the first 3D printed hands.

He started by posting a map asking people to share their location if they were interested in designing or creating a hand, or in acquiring one. The response was astounding. Currently, the community has more than 6,400 members and is growing by 1 percent to 3 percent each week.

Not only that, but innovation within the community continues to flourish. e-NABLE has already created its first arm and is currently working on new designs to meet the needs of more people. “The solution we need now is the support of our foundation so that volunteers can continue to be productive and create even better prosthetics for free,” Schull says.

Mohit Chaudhary is working with e-NABLE to create a 3D printing pilot program in Haiti. In emerging countries where manual labor is important, “it is helping those with hand defects, work accidents and even acts of violence continue to lead productive lives.”

In his speeches about the innovations e-NABLE has accomplished in its two-year history, Schull makes sure to drive the importance of how these innovations touch the multiple lives who are involved: “We make children smile. We make parents weep. And we make nerds rejoice.”

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