Mikko’s hand-me downs

By Grant McArthur

University of Melbourne engineering alum Matt Collinson with Mikko, 8, and his 3D-printed prosthetic hand
University of Melbourne engineering alum Matt Collinson with Mikko, 8, and his 3D-printed prosthetic hand. Picture: JASON EDWARDS

Mikko Alexander could already do almost anything he set his mind to, but it’s still nice to get a hand from special friends.

The Eltham eight-year-old was born with hand differences, leaving him without a palm and only two closely joined fingers. Surgery to alter his fingers so they could grip together, as well as determination from Mikko, meant he has grasped all the same opportunities as his mates.

But when University of Melbourne engineering students offered to build Mikko a new “robohand” prosthetic using a 3D printer, he jumped at the chance.

“It can help me do things like playing cricket, tennis and riding a bike,” Mikko said. “I like how it was made and, because it is so easy to make, kids everywhere can have one.

I like how it was made and, because it is so easy to make, kids everywhere can have one

“I like the prosthetic hand, but I like my real hand too.

“We’re all different.”

Helping Mikko could be just the tip of the iceberg for the students’ work, with the technology refinements made during his hand’s production lowering costs to help ensure electronic prosthetics can be printed cheaply for children all over the world.

Needing a project to complete their masters degree, Matt Collinson and Michael Naughtin signed up with the Robohand Australia charity, which is dedicated to making and sharing designs so that anyone with access to a 3D printer can make hands for those who needs them.

“When I was reading up on the project I just thought, ‘This is so different from the other projects, which are just concerned with a bottom-line figure of the product,’” Mr Collinson said.

“They are so cheap that, once kids grow out of them, you just scale it up and print out another. There is no servicing, they are not complicated and you don’t need a higher education to understand how it works.”

Mikko can flex his wrist to activate the robotic fingers to grasp, while attachments can be fitted to hold pens, tennis racquets or almost anything else he needs.

They are so cheap that, once kids grow out of them, you just scale it up and print out another. There is no servicing, they are not complicated and you don’t need a higher education to understand how it works.

“My favourite one on the hand is the mobile phone holder,” Mikko said.

“My friends think it is super cool.”

The project was also featured at the University of Melbourne’s Endeavour exhibition, while also capturing the attention of Higher Education Minister Gayle Tierney.

“University projects like this show how pushing the frontiers of research can really change people’s lives,” she said.

grant.mcarthur@news.com.au

This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Herald Sun on 19 October 2019