Albert Manero II, a mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, was inspired by a story on the radio about the inventors of a 3-D printed hand, so he got involved with E-Nable, an online volunteer organization that matches people with 3-D printers with children in need of hands and arms. He has since founded Limbitless Solutions, a nonprofit group based out of the University of Central Florida that builds and donates low-cost, 3D-printed bionic limbs to children who need them.
Mechanical arms are operated by opening and closing the hands when the user bends an elbow. This obviously doesn’t work for people who don’t have elbows, so Limbitless Solutions solved this problem by creating an electric arm that uses muscle sensors to control the hand by flexing a bicep. Each electronic limb takes 30-50 hours to make. The students use the printer in UCF’s manufacturing lab and cover the cost of materials through donations.
They have made electronic arms for five children and are working with three more kids at present. Each arm is personalized for the child’s unique requests. The team was surprised to find out that kids didn’t want to blend in with their peers. Instead, they have requested colorful designs inspired by superheroes or animated characters. Seven-year-old Alex Pring was born without a fully developed arm. Thanks to Manero’s work, he recently received his very own bionic arm from Iron Man himself. When presenting the arm, Robert Downey Jr. said, “It’s even cooler than I thought.”