Prosthetic Hand Challenge: Impacting a boy’s life

Posted on Thursday, April 16, 2015

Prosthetic Challenge Finale

On March 20th 2015, the “Prosthetic Hand Challenge”, sponsored and supervised by our very own uOttawa Makerspace, reached its final hours. The three qualifiers, Robert Rayson, Shannon Lee and Ruben Fernandez, have dedicated more than 1000 hours’ worth of expertise in order to supply Sebastian Chavarria, a local 6 year old boy, with a new, functioning prosthetic hand.

Ever since its launch in November of 2014, the Makerspace has been a success, capturing the attention of the uOttawa students. Its popularity, however, did not stop there; this free-of-charge service quickly spread unto the Ottawa community, specifically the Chavarria’s, a local couple who came in with a personal request. Their son, Sebastian, was born with a multitude of medical conditions, one in particular that slowed down the motor function of his left hand.

While a commercial hand would have cost them an annual $20,000, the Chavarria parents resorted to the U of O Faculty of Engineering for more innovative ways to supply their child with a functioning prototype. With the use of 3D printers and the expertise of uOttawa students, Sebastian’s “Iron-Man” inspired hand was manifested into being. This challenge not only changed the life of the young boy, but also that of the contestants, who found themselves personally invested with the bonds they’ve made with the family. Shannon, the engineering student with the winning model, was personally touched by this experience: “I felt like crying when Sebastian put on the hand Robert and I made for him. It is very emotional for me to see that I can make such a huge positive impact on someone's life. I can't believe that he'll finally be able to ride a bike with the help of a new feature I innovated on the prosthetic.”

From the initial 73 participants, in the end 3 prosthetics hands were designed, from which Sebastian was able to pick his favourite in terms of fit and design. The prosthetic allowed maximum flexibility in motion, giving Sebastian the opportunity to independently ride a bike. This new hand cost less than $100 dollars to produce, and was rewarded with a $1000 cash prize.

After the success of the “Prosthetic Hand Challenge”, the Faculty of Engineering has decided to expand its center by making the Makerspace a mobile lab, called the Maker Mobile, which will be able to travel all over the Ottawa region to deliver fun hands-on learning activities using the latest technologies such as  3D printers and scanners, laser cutters and Arduino microcontrollers.

This heart-felt story was also widely covered by the media, with networks like CBC News, Ottawa Citizen, CTV News, Ottawa Sun, and The Fulcrum paying close attention to what was going on:

“Sebastian Chavarria chose the model as part of the university’s challenge to create a prosthetic hand using a 3D printer at the school’s Makerspace centre.” CBC News, March 20.

“Two Ottawa engineering students can make the parts of a prosthetic hand for six-year-old Sebastian Chavarria in minutes.” Ottawa Citizen, March 20th.

“The colourful design wasn't the only feature catching attention, the prosthetic was also designed to mirror movements of a human hand and even lock into place when the user wants to grasp onto something tightly.” Ottawa Sun, March 20th.

“Hanan Anis, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, said that contest proved to be an exciting challenge for the students because they don't often get to see the positive effects of their work.” CTV News, March 20th.

“In the coming months, the faculty will be fundraising for the Maker Mobile, a truck that will travel to schools and libraries around Ottawa to teach youth about 3D-printing technology.” The Fulcrum, March 26th.

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