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This team of high schoolers is building accessibility with free, 3D-printed prosthetics


For this first time in his life, Pete Peeks was able to use both hands to hang Christmas lights outside his house this year — thanks to the help of a high school robotics team.

Peeks, 38, was born without the full use of his right hand, and though many may take gripping a nail, hammering it in and stringing holiday lights for granted, Peeks said it was beyond his wildest dreams.

Early this month, he became one of the latest clients of the Sequoyah High School Robotics Team in Canton, Georgia. The team has designs and 3D- printed custom prosthesis to send for free to people around the world who need them. And as Americans gather for the winter holidays, the students will be at home continuing their work.

“The beauty of this project is that it can be done virtually and/or with limited contact. So, our goal is to still finish up these clients and take on new clients over the Christmas break,” their teacher Brent Hollers said.

The team of students has taken on clients from all over: from the US to China and Algeria. And the international effort to increase access to prosthesis began as an eagle scout project.

Daniel McCrobie wanted his project to make an ongoing impact as well as utilize his interest in biomechanical engineering, he said. Hollers was waiting for a passionate student to connect with e-NABLE, a global organization of volunteers that use their 3D printers to make prosthetic upper limb devices for people in need at no cost to the clients.

And so McCrobie, Hollers and the 25 members of the Sequoyah High School robotics team put their equipment to work.

The 17-year-old said that while the clients have said they are benefiting from the products, the students are also benefiting by learning about the challenges other people face and how technology can make a difference.

“Many of the prosthetics people can get the conventional way are very expensive, and even if you are fortunate enough to get coverage, children grow out of them like they grow out of shoes,” he said.

The inexpensive production through 3D printing opens up access to more people who need them, and also means that the prosthesis can be more customized to the clients’ unique bodies and specific needs.

One client still had use of his pinkie finger, McCrobie said, so the team was able to adjust the design to incorporate his own finger with his prosthetic hand.

Peeks said the team was able to make educated recommendations for his prosthesis when he met with them too.

“They went beyond expectations in terms of really assessing the situation and learning what my specific needs were,” he said. “They were able to make some measurement to make sure everything was fitted correctly.”

And within a couple weeks, he said, he had a prototype ready to try on.

“Just being able to hold a drink or hold two drinks and really be able to experience the use of both hands has been tremendous,” Peeks said. “Their eagerness to want to help and really learn technology and use that technology to really transform people’s lives has been a great representation of humans helping humans.”

That legacy of giving is something McCrobie hopes will only continue when he graduates and that future robotics teams will pick up where he leaves off. The team is currently working on documenting their processes to pass them onto future classes, Hollers said.

“We bring them in as a freshman, we get them hooked on an idea and they continue learning and helping,” Hollers said. “And when they graduate, they’ve given back to their community.”

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