A big-hearted engineer in Victoria is making prosthetic hands at no cost to their recipients, by investing his redundancy payout and crowd-funding for equipment and software.
Former automotive engineer Mat Bowtell used a payout from Toyota to buy 3D printers and set up shop in his home, the ABC has reported. He now designs and makes low-cost prosthetic limbs, particularly for children, and doesn’t even charge for postage.
“I think as a society we need to look after people who are disadvantaged or have disabilities or limb difference,” he says.
Bowtell says he started out with around $5000 of his own money and purchased two small 3D printers, a basic scanner, CAD and 3D printing software, along with materials and postage. That was two years ago, and now after crowd-funding with a goal of $7000, he has raised almost $110,000 to help children and adults to receive new fingers, hands and limbs.
“So far, I have made open-source prosthetic hands for a four-year-old boy in New South Wales, a six-year-old boy in Auckland, a 23-year-old man in Queensland, and a three-year-old girl in New South Wales,” Mr Bowtell says.
Bowtell has also designed the Kinetic Finger, something he describes as a revolutionary functional prosthetic for partial finger amputees. One recipient in Japan, he says, has returned to playing the piano after 10 years.
He has also made Kinetic Fingers for a man in Melbourne, a hand for a 12-year-old girl in NSW, a full arm for a 17-year-old girl in Iraq — and more are waiting.
The seminal moment that led to his present enterprise, Bowtell says, actually occurred 14 years ago when he was studying mechatronics at Monash University while on a scholarship in Japan.
“I tried on a $1-million bionic arm and I thought ‘wow, this is really, really fantastic technology’,” he told the ABC. “But who on Earth is going to be able to afford it?”
According to Bowtell, although he can make a limb within a day or so, to get one done commercially or traditionally it can take months and be very expensive — more than $15,000.
“A lot of the things I design you can basically strap on,” he said. “[And] if you’ve chopped off your finger you’re able to get full function back … and it costs about 90 cents to make.”
Bowtell also designs and makes devices to help children take part in activities. These include items like the skipping rope adaptor for children who do not have a hand or have been born with only part of a limb — and they get to choose their own colours and designs.
“It allows kids to join in and do things with all the other kids … like riding a bike, helping with the dishes, and playing drums,” he says.
The designs, including the Kinetic finger, are free under a Creative Commons Licence, which allows other people to download them but not sell them or make a profit from his designs.
The licence does enable people to take their own measurements and 3D-print their own prosthetic. Bowtell’s designs have been downloaded more than 1000 times, saving recipients an estimated $6.5 million.