Printable Prosthetics Fingers and OpenSCAD Design Tips

Solid finger tip for Cyborg Beast

Solid finger tip for Cyborg Beast

Above is my first attempt at designing a “solid” finger for the Cyborg Beast DIY printable prosthetic in OpenSCAD.1 The reason this is a “solid” finger is that I haven’t subtracted out any material to allow this partial finger to connect with anything else.

The problem with scaling (up or down) any design that requires fasteners and hardware is that when you do, the holes for the hardware are similarly scaled.  This leads to more post-printing work drilling holes to widen them or to find larger fasteners that won’t rattle around in too-large holes.

Thus, if the hardware consists of 3mm screws, the holes for the hardware should be 3mm no matter how much the parts are scaled up or down.  To make matters more interesting, not all holes in the model should be excepted from scaling.  The above finger tip has a plastic end that is supposed to fit into a mid-finger piece – and those parts should be scaled up or down according to the size of the overall hand.  Thus, some voids should be scaled2 and others not at all.3

I’m rather happy with how this finger has turned out so far.  It has most of what I understand to be the essential features of the Cyborg Beast fingertips, including little nubs along the finger pad to allow for gripping.  I intend to make this an option, in case a user would rather use something like Plasti-Dip to make grippy finger pads, rather than relying on printed plastic bumps.

However, converting a decent design into a parametric design requires a little more work.  The way I go about designing a parametric model is to first design one instance of the thing, in this case the finger tip.  My next step is to poke through the OpenSCAD code to locate those aspects parts that contribute to the models’ essential features – length of the finger tip, for instance.  Once I’ve found these bits, I then try to modify them so that I can insert different variables and arrive at sane variations on the model.

Wish me luck!4

  1. If this is your first time tuning in, check out the prior posts in this series using the links at the bottom of this post []
  2. Where parts meet []
  3. Such as holes for hardware []
  4. See, this is a post about finger tips and design tips!  Oh, man, I crack myself up! []

Printable Prosthetics R&D Q&A FAQ: Part The Third – The Answering

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tuesday afternoon I had the good fortune to talk to Professor Jorge Zuniga of Creighton University regarding his insights on printable prosthetics, measurements of uneffected/effected hands, and various important design considerations.  Getting to talk to him really helped crystallize my understanding of the various measurements and the way in which the parts of the printable prosthetic1

  1. Design Ideals
    1. One of the design ideals of the Cyborg Beast prosthetic is to fashion a device that strives for symmetry with the unaffected hand.  Thus, all of the necessary measurements are taken from the unaffected extremity.  This serves two purposes.  First, it allows for the prosthetic to be similar in scale to the unaffected hand.  Secondly, the unaffected extremity tends to be, in most cases2 , slightly larger than the affected extremity.  The size difference may be due to the unaffected extremity being used more, and thus having more muscle mass, or due to the loss of muscle tone and muscle atrophy in the affected extremity.  Either way, a prosthetic designed using the measurements from the unaffected extremity should generally fit the affected extremity.  Since this particular prosthetic design uses velcro straps to fasten to the affected forearm, a prosthetic that is slightly too large can easily be adjusted to fit well by tightening the straps.
    2. Another design ideal is to create a core prosthetic design which works for the vast majority of persons.
  2. Critical Printable Components
    1. A rough sketch of the various parts of the Cyborg Beast prosthetic appear above as “Figure 2.”
    2. Palm.  This is the part that fits over the hand.
    3. Gauntlet.  This is the part that fits over the forearm, between the wrist and elbow.
    4. Four fingers, each comprised of two pieces.  The above simplified sketch only shows the fingers as a single piece.  Do not let my sophisticated drawings fool you.
    5. One thumb, comprised of two pieces.  Like the fingers, the thumb is comprised of two plastic pieces.
  3. Critical Measurements
    1. These measurements refer to the lines labeled in “Figure 1.”  All measurements relate to the unaffected extremity.
    2. F5.  This is the length of the forearm, from the interior of the elbow to the wrist.  While this could be measured along the side of the forearm, it very likely doesn’t matter.
    3. F2 (measured at 1/2 F5).  At a location along the forearm, half way long F5, the width of the forearm.
    4. H1.  This is the distance across the knuckles, from the pinky to the forefinger.
      1. When I lay my own hand flat on a table top, I perceive that an imaginary line drawn through my pinky and forefinger knuckles would end up being not exactly perpendicular to an imaginary line drawn from my elbow to my wrist.  More on this below.
      2. All of that is another way to say that I suspect H1 is not perpendicular to F5.
    5. W.  This is the width of the wrist.  Rather than being strictly measured from either side of the wrist, this measurement appears to best made using the endpoints of the H2 and H3 lines closest to the wrist.
    6. H2 and H3.  H2 is the length from the wrist to the pinky knuckle and H3 is the length from the wrist to the forefinger knuckle.
    7. All other measurements indicated might possibly be useful for refining the design, but they are primarily important for the Creighton University research study purposes.
  4. How Each Critical Measurement Informs Design
    1. F5.  Gauntlet length is not longer than 1/2 F5 and not shorter than 1/4 F5.
    2. F2.  Gauntlet forearm width is F2.
    3. W.  Gauntlet wrist width is W.  Theoretically, if the prosthetic’s palm is scaled up to accommodate the wrist width (W), the affected hand  should fit under and inside the prosthetic palm.
    4. H3 can be used to inform the relative lengths of the fingers to match the overall length of the unaffected hand.   This isn’t strictly required for a functional prosthetic.  As designed, the Cyborg Beast appears to use fingers of equal length.  However, the fingers could be scaled up or down along with the rest of the prosthetic hand.  Alternatively, and as will be discussed below, its possible that the fingers could be designed to be of different lengths.  Prosthetics for young children should contemplate fingers based upon slightly larger, 1-2cm, measurements.  The reason being that they quickly outgrow existing parts.
  5. Functional Design Considerations
    1. Thickness of parts is 3mm – 5mm, 20% fill.
    2. The wrist hinges should line up as exactly as possible with where the user’s wrist bends.  Additionally, the wrist hinge should be perpendicular to the line of the forearm/gauntlet.
    3. There should be about 1 – 2 mm of space between the hinge part on the palm and the hinge part on the gauntlet.  This allows a washer to be inserted for more fluid movement.
    4. Eliminate square corners when possible, as sharp edges can contribute to possbile injury.
  6. Cosmetic Design Considerations
    1. Using the unaffected hand for measurements also allows us to seek symmetry between the hands.
  7. Advanced Considerations
    1. Degree tilt to H1.  As mentioned above, it seems like the “H1″ line is not perfectly perpendicular to an imaginary line drawn from my elbow to my wrist.  An educated guesstimate would be that there is a 9 degree tilt to this line.  While existing Cyborg Beast designs do not include this knuckle “tilt,” including this feature in future designs may allow the prosthetic to appear and function more naturally.  However, I don’t know if there’s any real ergonomic benefit to using incorporating this knuckle tilt.
    2. Different knuckle positions for fingers.  The Cyborg Beast has a knuckle “block” that positions the attachment points for all fingers in a straight line.  The reason for this is simple – it’s a lot easier to put one long screw through the entire knuckle block to secure and strengthen all four fingers at once.  At a recent e-NABLE meeting I had the chance to inspect a 3D printed prosthetic which used different knuckle positions for each finger.  Rather than all of the knuckles in a straight line, this model featured each knuckle at a different, and more natural seeming, position.  While this can appear more natural, I’m not sure there’s an ergonomic or aesthetic benefit.
    3. Different finger lengths.  Fingers are different lengths.  The Cyborg Beast, with all fingers having the same relative knuckle positions and same finger sizes, has a more mechanical look than might otherwise be possible.  I don’t know if there’s an ergonomic benefit to using different finger lengths, but this is certainly something to explore.

Based on the above, I think I’m ready to dive back into the OpenSCAD code and work out a parametric gauntlet, fingers, and thumb.  Stay tuned!

  1. I’m basing my own designs off of his Cyborg Beast designs []
  2. Let’s just choose the large and arbitrary percentage of 95% []

Printable Prosthetics R&D Q&A FAQ: Part 2 – The Wondering

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In order for me to design an OpenSCAD parametric model that can be adjusted to work for more people, I need to get a better handle on the necessary measurements and how they effect the final design.  Below is my understanding of the necessary measurements and how those measurements necessitate changes in the final prosthetic.

  1. What are the design ideals, besides functionality?
    1. While answering a different question, Marc Petrykowski suggests, “My goal as the designer and printer is to make the hand as near perfect as the other hand so it feels the same to the body and brain, thus they will respond with the effected hand like it was their real non effected hand. Also as stated above, the degrees of flexion and extension and the size/length of the fingers are all incorporated into the final design before the printing the hand.”
    2. Thus, all other things being equal, he tries to craft a hand that is as similar as possible to the non-effected hand.
  2. What are the main parts of the Cyborg Beast?
    1. I’ve drawn a picture with the main features of the Cyborg Beast printable prosthetic.  There are really just a few parts – the palm, the “gauntlet,” fingers, and thumb.  The gauntlet fits over and is secured to the forearm and is connected to the palm by two hinges.  The palm goes over the user’s effected hand and is connected to the fingers and thumb.
  3. What are the necessary measurements?
    1. Marc Petrykowski has provided a set of photos to demonstrate the various measurements.  They appear to all be in millimeters.  Please forgive my layman’s description of these various measurements.  Measurements are taken of the effected and non-effected sides so that a prosthetic can be made that will fit the effected side, but have similar characteristics to the non-effected side.
    2. Flexion angle.  This would be the maximum angle of movement from holding your hand out and then bending the hand at the wrist towards the inside of the wrist.  An example is pictured above as “Figure 1.”
    3. Extension angle.  This would be the maximum angle of movement from holding your hand out and then bending the hand at the wrist away from the inside of the wrist.  An example is pictured above as “Figure 2.”
    4. Knuckle width.  This is the width of the hand at the knuckles.  In Figure 3, you’ll see this as “H1″ and “h1.”
    5. Wrist width.  This is the width of the hand at the wrist.  In Figure 3, you’ll see this as “W” and “w.”
    6. Hand measurements.  I’ve identified these as “H1 – H3″ and “h1 – h4″ in Figure 3 above.
    7. Forearm width measurements.  I’ve identified these as “F1 – F3″ and “f1 – f4″ in Figure 3 above.
  4. How does each measurement inform the design?
    1. Again, this is merely my guess, impression, or understanding of how each measurement results in a design change.  For the purposes of these diagrams, I’ve assigned each measurement a letter or letter/number combination.  When applicable, I’ve differentiated between the effected (lower case) and non-effected (upper case) hands.
    2. Hand Measurements (Figure 1,blue and green)
      1. Knuckle width, non-effected hand, “H1″.  This is necessary to creating a prosthetic of the size that will match the non-effected hand.
      2. Knuckle width, effected hand, “h1″.  This is necessary to creating a prosthetic of the size that will fit the effected hand inside the palm.
      3. Wrist to pinky knuckle, “H2″ and “h2,” the purpose of which is to ensure a prosthetic that will fit the effected hand inside the palm.
      4. Wrist to middle finger tip, “H3″ is the overall length of the uneffected hand.  The purpose of this is to create a prosthetic of roughly the same size as the uneffected hand.
      5. Wrist to index finger knuckle, “h3″ is for making sure the prosthetic palm will fit around the effected hand.
      6. Wrist to middle3 finger, “h4″ is for making sure the effected hand will fit inside the prosthetic palm.
    3. Wrist Measurements (Figure 1, orange)
      1. Wrist width, “W” for the non-effected hand and “w” for the effected hand.  The purpose of the effected hand measurement is to ensure a good fit between the prosthetic palm and the effected hand and the purpose of the non-effected hand measurement is to allow the prosthetic palm to match the non-effected hand more closely.
    4. Forearm Measurements (Figures 1, purple and red)
      1. Various measurements from “F1″ (and “f1) just below the wrist to “F4″ (and “f4″) which is the width of the elbow. As best as I can tell, these measurements are to ensure a good fit of the “gauntlet” on the effected forearm.
      2. Elbow to wrist, “F5″ on the uneffected arm and “f5″ on the effected arm.  I’m not sure what the purpose of this measurement is, but perhaps it is to ensure the effected arm with prosthetic is roughly the same length as the unaffected arm.
    5. Angle Measurements (Figures 2, 3)
      1. Somehow the flexion and extension are incorporated into the design.  I do not know how these settings inform the design.
  5. How accurate do these measurements need to be?
    1. Within 1mm, rounded up would be best.  Thanks to Peregrine Hawthrone and David Orgeman for the input.
  6. Questions begetting questions
    1. If you’ve ever made one of these prosthetics, please let me know if there’s anything I’ve gotten wrong.
    2. It appears the measurements effect the design as follows:
      1. Measurements “h1, h2, h3, h4 and w” dictate the size of the palm.  The ratio of the increase/decrease is then applied to all the finger bits.  The measurement “H3″ is used to adjust the size of the palm and fingers on the effected arm.
      2. Measurements “f1, f2, and w” dictate the size of the gauntlet.
      3. The additional measurements on the corresponding uneffected arm could be used to make the prosthetic over the effected arm appear more like the uneffected arm.
      4. I’m guessing the other unused measurements (“f3, f4, f5″) are used as part of the Creighton University research study, to measure the physical changes in the extremities before, during, and after use of these prosthetics.
    3. How does the flexion and extension change the design?
    4. Have you printed the Cyborg Beast designs I’ve uploaded?  What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading and helping!  Comments appreciated!

Printable Prosthetics R&D Q&A FAQ: Part 1 – The Questioning

Top down view, extension view, and flexion view

Top down view, extension view, and flexion view

Marc Petrykowski of Creighton University was kind enough to provide some additional practical experience and information about the university’s research study into printable prosthetics.  For anyone looking to dive into this project, I’m cross-posting the information from the e-NABLE Google Plus group here.1 I’ve adjusted the formatting slightly, but otherwise everything below are Marc’s words.

  1. What exact measurements do you need (e.g., hand-length from where to where?) 
    1. Below are photos of all of the measurements I use for designing a hand.2 Yes it does seem like a lot, but all of them are needed to ensure the best custom fit for the hand we make for the user. When making a custom hand, it is important to make the 3D printed hand as similar to the non effect hand (fingers, width, length, etc). Each hand also has to be custom because of the size (length, width, height) or the stump. Some are very tiny and some are much bigger, so that also plays a big role when you have to design a hand. There are two photos that are measuring angle of flexion and extension. Those are important to see how tight or how loose the hand has to be for the power and strength of the individual and to make the hand as functional as possible.
  2. How do you get them from scans etc.
    1. Scans from our 3D scanner are in the format .STL which can be imported into programs such as blender (Shown below). Then I can lay it into the preexisting hand design and see an image of how it will fit, including the gauntlet size. If there are further changes to be made, I can do it all in blender before the print.
  3. How do you apply those measurements to your model
    1. As stated above, the measurements matter for the size of the hand. You can’t have a hand that is much smaller then the opposite hand, but you also can’t have a hand that is too small or large for the stump. Everything has to be customize depending on each case. This is where the designing takes the longest. My goal as the designer and printer is to make the hand as near perfect as the other hand so it feels the same to the body and brain, thus they will respond with the effected hand like it was their real non effected hand. Also as stated above, the degrees of flexion and extension and the size/length of the fingers are all incorporated into the final design before the printing the hand.
    2. And if, as +Jorge Zuniga suggests, ALL parts can be pre-printed, I’m hoping you guys will take the lead in helping us make it easy.  (As easy as buying shoes at a shoe store)
    3. This is possible because all of the redesigning and redoing of the measurements are all done in blender. Remember, if you resize a finger to a certain percentage, then you have to do the same for the rest of the fingers, thumb, phalanges, palm, and the gauntlet. That is how you can print everything off as one complete print.
  4. What are the pre-printed unit descriptors and dimensions small medium large XL? Narrow/wide?
    1. Pre Print units are based off of the measurements and how you converted them in blender. Instead of having small, medium, large, XL, etc. I have converted that into being resizing percentages. I use makerware since we use makerbots (2x and 2) so for a hand such as below picture measurements, I would classify that as a small or (110-130%), an extra small would be closer to 100-110% (which is super small like a 4 year old or so), a medium hand will be around 130-150%, a large will be around 150-170%, and an extra large is around 170%-190%+. Again, the percentage matters from the sizes that correspond the non effected hand as you want to make it as close to the other hand as possible.
  5. Does a Medium finger always go with a Medium hand?  If not, what’s the deal?
    1. Yes, whenever you print a certain size of one finger, you do that same size for the rest of the print. For example, if I printed a palm at 110%, I would have to make the fingers, phalanges, thumb, thumb phalanger, and the gauntlet all at 110%.
  6. Where are  the models for printing S M L XL hands or fingers, etc..
    1. The problem is that there are no models. Each hand is supposed to be custom depending on each case scenario.

I have several follow up questions, but I’ll leave those for the next post.

  1. The Google Plus group is private and you have to request an invitation, freely given, to be included.  While discussing discrete issues is easy enough, without the ability to quote original text, a detailed multi-issue open design discussion is very difficult. []
  2. Note:  I’ve removed the photographs.  I am not sure I have permission to post these pictures publicly. []

OpenSCAD Intermediates: How to Make Complex Organic Shapes

Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype

Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype

OpenSCAD tutorials for the MakerBot blog.  In that OpenSCAD tutorial series I covered the basics of the OpenSCAD interface, how to make 2D forms, how to make some basic 3D forms, how to position those forms in 3D space, the different ways to combine forms, how to create mashups of one or more existing STL’s and OpenSCAD forms, how to use modules to reuse your code to make your life easier, how to extrude flat 2D forms into 3D forms, and how to fix design problems.  One of the last tutorials was on how to make organic looking shapes using OpenSCAD.1  However, I have a few design tricks left to share.  A little over 18 months ago I left off the series suggesting as new topics.2 There’s one particular “trick” I am using a lot as I work on designing a printable parametric prosthetic. This trick is somewhat easier to explain using pictures.  Suppose you wanted to make a shape that looked something like a “jack,” but you wanted it to have curved surfaces at the center.  Let’s see what happens when we try to use the “hull()” command.  Do do this, we’ll make a sphere at the center and put eight more spheres around it.  The code for this example is basically irrelevant, but I’ll provide it anyhow.

There’s a much easier way to create the 8 “orbiting” spheres, but that’s another post unto itself.  :)  Here’s what the above code will create:

Nine little spheres (I named one of them Pluto!)

Nine little spheres (I named one of them Pluto!)

Now, let’s use the “hull()” command to wrap around these spheres.

That code will make this:

Nine spheres to... a box?

Nine spheres to… a box?

The result looks nothing like a jack! It looks more like a box with rounded edges. The limitation with the “hull()” command3 is that it connects all the outside points from the various shapes.  The result is more like what the objects would look like if you covered them in plastic wrap – but not what they would look like if you tried to use shrink wrap.4 However, our goal is to get a jack.  How should we go about this?  The same way we eat an elephant.56 We need to use “hull()” multiple times7 to connect the central sphere to the eight surrounding spheres.

The result would look like:

Much better!

Much better!

By breaking the overall design into pieces, you can use the “hull()” command to connect pieces of the design to one another in a seemingly organic fashion.  Here’s a set of pictures of my most recent work that uses these design tricks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  1. Full list here:

    1. OpenSCAD Basics: The Setup
    2. OpenSCAD Basics: 2D Forms
    3. OpenSCAD Basics: 3D Forms
    4. OpenSCAD Basics: Manipulating Forms
    5. OpenSCAD Intermediates: Combining Forms
    6. OpenSCAD Intermediates: Mashups
    7. OpenSCAD Intermediates: Modularity
    8. OpenSCAD Intermediates: Extruding 2D Objects
    9. OpenSCAD Intermediates: Fixing Design Problems
    10. OpenSCAD Intermediates: How to Make Organic Shapes
    11. OpenSCAD Design Tips
    12. OpenSCAD Design Tips: How to Make a Customizable Thing


  2. These are, in no particular order:

    • How to sketch an object with OpenSCAD
    • How to easily make regular solids – other than cubes and cylinders, like hexagons, pentagons, octagons, etc
    • How to easily make symmetrical solids
    • How to easily make irregular, but symmetrical solids


  3. I almost typed “problem,” but in this case it probably is just a feature []
  4. That’s the best analogy I can come up with []
  5. One bite at a time. []
  6. It’s such a damn shame when a cool domain name is taken – and there’s nothing there.  Such as []
  7. 8 times []

On Designing in the Open

Designing in the Open

Designing in the Open

I like designing in the open.  This is not really the same thing as “open source” design, although I love that too.  An open source design means that you’re sharing your source files, ideally with lots of comments to explain what you’re doing and why.  I think of “designing in the open” as talking about1 all the experiments, design ideals, design choices, mistakes, dead ends, and breakthroughs that come along with working on an open source design.

These are really parallel and complimentary tracks.  If you’re designing in the open, anybody can come along, read through your notes, ideas that you’ve considered but not really explored, and build their own project based off your thoughts.  Open source projects allow anyone to come along, build your exact project, and make changes as they see fit.  The two together however, allow the next person to use your source and stand on your shoulders, to learn from all your mistakes, and truly grok the design.

Two of my projects “designed in the open” that I’ve done the most work on was a large wall hanging drawing robot2 and a tiny drawing robot.  At the time of this writing, I’ve got about 83 posts on the large drawing robot (including literally thousands of words about just about every aspect of the design of each plastic part) and 23 posts on the small drawing robot, exploring all the design ideas that didn’t pan out, different approaches other people used, and what did and didn’t work for me, and why.

When it came to building my own big drawing robot, Sandy Noble’s website and forums were absolutely invaluable.  Using these resources and with patient guidance and help from Sandy himself, I was able to build my own robot, making variations informed by the experiences of others.

Designing in the open is more than about just documentation.  Documentation tends to be more about explaining why something is the way it is and now not to go wrong.  It doesn’t tell people about all the mistakes and tragedies that went into the creation of the thing in first place.

So, why am I droning on about blogging about mistakes and dead ends?  I’m embarking on a new project where there has been some truly incredible work so far.  As I look at the designs, it is difficult for me to see what aspects of the designs are absolutely critical, which parts are vestigial remnants of earlier designs, and what parts are merely cosmetic.  When it came to working on my own big drawing robot, I tackled a similar problem3 by creating exhaustive lists of pretty much every variation I could find, examining the differences and similarities, and pondering/brainstorming about why different decisions were made.

Part of the problem with this new project is that so much of the content is in Google Plus or on Thingiverse, both of which are incredibly difficult to sift through for information.  Thingiverse is great for sharing design files, works in progress, and sharing instructions.  However, the comment system handled by Disqus is very finicky and doesn’t allow linking to specific comments.  Google Plus is a fair system for facilitating group discussions and comments, but it requires an invite, doesn’t allow “reshares,” and is pretty much impossible to link to for reference.

All that being said, while a blog is an excellent way for a very small number of people to share their work, it’s kind of terrible for larger collaborative discussions.  Although I haven’t tried collaborative work through a wiki, that might be a reasonable way forward.  While I don’t know the answer to the community conundrum, I know it is not Facebook or Google Plus.  Overall, the best system I’ve seen so far may be Sandy’s blog + forums.

In any case, to the extent you have an open source project you’re working on, please consider how your choice in community platform can facilitate designing in the open so that viewing and searching don’t require invitations/registrations, comments don’t require registrations or log ins, and easy linking to prior discussions and comments.

  1. Probably blogging about – but forums work well too []
  2. Based on Sandy Noble’s excellent Polargraph []
  3. Namely, lots of excellent designs, lots of documentation – but little information about why certain decisions were made []

Progress on Parametric Printable Prosthetic

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So, I’ve been hacking away at an OpenSCAD sketch of the Cyborg Beast 3D printable DIY prosthetic.  At the moment I’m working on designing the left palm.1 I’m reasonably happy with the version so far.  I’ve also managed to separate out the cutouts for the hardware from the design of the hand itself.  The benefit to doing so is that it should later be possible to scale the hand up or down, but keep the hareware cutouts the same size.

It’s easy to print a hand, fingers, and thumb scaled to 110%, but finding Chicago screws that is 110% may be more difficult.  There’s still a LOT of work to do here, but I think this is a good start.  Below are the same three views of the two versions (OpenSCAD parametric and original Cyborg Beast).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I’m going through and replicating the design aspects of the Cyborg Beast, more design issues crop up:

  1. The grooves where the fingers fit into the palm are either tapered or flared in a non-uniform manner.  To get a better idea of this by reviewing the two pictures below.
  2. The holes for the elastic cord to cause the fingers to return to the open position do not appear to be of uniform diameter, uniform distance apart, or equally centered in the knuckle blocks.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I can’t tell if these are critical design features2 or just design elements that don’t provide additional function or utility.  If you happen to know, your input would be greatly appreciated.

  1. And, really, once the left palm is done it’s an easy to mirror this part to make a “right palm.” []
  2. I’m guessing not []

Measurements Required for DIY 3D Printed Hand Prosthetics

Cyborg Hand v7.0

Cyborg Hand v7.0

I’ve recently embarked upon a quest to create a parametric version of the e-NABLE prosthetic designs.  I’ve chosen the “Cyborg Beast” as it came highly recommended and I had the good fortune to meet one the main designers.

I have a habit of diving headfirst12 into a project I know absolutely nothing about and learning just enough to be dangerous as I go.3 Even if the results aren’t what would be called “successful” under normal circumstances, they do tend to be entertaining.

I generally get started by asking a ridiculous amount of questions.4 I have some guesses, but no concrete answers to the below.  If you know, I’d greatly appreciate any comments or replies.  Here’s a bunch to get us started:

  1. What are the minimum required measurements to create a suitable prosthetic, such as the Cyborg Beast?
    1. Knowing the minimum required measurements would allow a designer to better create a parametric design.
    2. The Cyborg Beast instructions refer the builder back to the measurement instructions for the Snap Together Robohand by Michael Curry aka Skimbal. These instructions indicate that all you need is the measurement of the width of the hand, where the hand is held flat with the fingers together, at the widest point on the knuckles.  Based upon the ratio between the subject’s knuckles and the stock Robohand knuckle block, all of the parts for the model are then scaled up or down.
    3. The ease of reference, the entire set of instructions for the Snap Together Robohand are as follows:
      1. Measure the length of the individual’s knuckles across the back of the hand

      2. from the index to pinky finger. (Example: 85mm)
      3. Add 5mm to your measurement to account for the thickness of the gauntlet.

        (Example: if the individual’s hand measures 85mm knuckle-to-knuckle, add 

        5mm for a total length of 90 mm).

      4. The knuckle block in the files you downloaded is 65mm. Divide your result by 

        65. (Example: 90/65 = 1.38).

      5. Multiply the answer times 100 to get a percentage. 

        (Example: 1.38 x100 = 138%).

      6. Scale all the parts of Robohand by this percentage before printing. This can b

        e done using the ‘Scale’ tool in Makerware.

    4. Are there any other measurements, besides the width of the hand at the knuckles, required to create a suitable custom prosthetic?
  2. How do these measurements inform a customized prosthetic design?
    1. Scaling all parts equally makes sense for a “snap together” design where all the parts, including the fasteners, are sized together.  When one is using stock parts (such as screws, elastic cord, and nylon cord)), this approach can end up requiring the builder to do a lot of post-printing work widening holes or trying to find wider screws.
    2. Other than scaling all parts equally, based upon knuckle measurements, is there any other modifications to the printable design required in order to create a useful prosthetic?
  3. How accurate do these measurements need to be in order to create a suitable prosthetic?
    1. Do the measurements need to be down to the micron?  Is within about 1mm or so good enough?
  4. For each required measurement, is it better to round it up or down?
    1. If the only required measurement is the width of the knuckles at the widest point, I suspect that it is probably better to round this figure up, rather than down.  I believe it would be much easier to add a little extra padding or tighten the velcro strapping a bit more.
  5. What are the important structural features of the Cyborg Beast?  As in, what parts, dimensions, and part relationships are absolutely critical to its proper function and fit?
    1. I’m very very weak in this area.  I just don’t know which parts are “load bearing” and are so critical to the function of the device that I should make special efforts to replicate them in my design.  Any suggestions here are greatly appreciated.
    2. I suspect that the critical functional features include part thickness (especially where separate parts meet - for strength and durability), the height and length of the “outcropping” on the back of the wrist which appears to provide the mechanical advantage which causes the fingers to constrict, and the tightening block on the gauntlet.
  6. What are the important design features of the Cyborg Beast?  As in, what parts, dimensions, and part relationships are critical to the suitability of this model over others?
    1. Again, I’m incredibly weak in this area.  I suspect that the overall organic shape to the model is one of its most stand-out features.  However, I would invite more informed comments and observations.
  7. What parts of the Cyborg Beast are the most improved?
  8. What parts of the Cyborg Beast are most in need of improvement?
  1. Almost willy-nilly, if you will. []
  2. You will, won’t you? []
  3. I imagine this is what it is like to learn to fly. []
  4. If you don’t believe me, feel free to peruse this site where you fill find literally thousands of words on the smallest design variations on the smallest parts for a drawing robot []

Possibly Parametric Prosthetics

Cyborg Beast v7.0

Cyborg Beast v7.0

This last Friday I journeyed to the Autodesk offices at Pier 9 in San Francisco to attend a meeting for e-NABLE, a group devoted to developing, making, and distributing DIY prosthetics.  I have to admit that my own personal interests weren’t necessarily aligned with that of the entire group.  I’m sure those there would forgive my trespasses, but I am far more interested in making the prosthetics and in making it easier for others to make similar prosthetics than I am in the actual mechanics of building an organization that does these same things.

I came away from the meeting having met some amazing people doing amazing things, and with considerably more knowledge than that with which I arrived.1 Just as with the RepRap project, the daunting part of getting started in this field is wondering where the heck to get started.  There are so many different models being developed and so much information, that I just was not sure how to go about actually making such a prosthetic.

As frequent readers of this blog2 know, I like to treat this site as something of an online open notebook where I share my notes, thoughts, and ideas.  Thus, here are the most helpful things I learned as a result of this meeting:

  1. Where to Get Started
    1. Jonathan Schull, an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, was patient and kind enough to provide me with some pointers on where to get started with producing 3D printed prosthetics.  Jon suggested the Talon Hand for strength, the Cyborg Beast for general use, and the ODY Hand for young children.  The Cyborg Beast instructions refer one to the measurement instructions for the Snap Together Robohand by Michael Curry aka Skimbal.  The process, as far as I understand it, involves measuring the subject’s hand and scaling all of the parts up or down accordingly.
  2. Taking Measurements.
    1. Professor Jorge Zuniga, of Creighton University in Nebraska, is currently using a system for taking measurements that involves taking three photographs of a person’s upper extremities in different positions.  The photographs are taken with a ruler in the image, so that the measurements may be extrapolated.  In talking with Professor Zuniga, I learned that while this is a good way to get a lot of information very quickly (take three quick photographs), it can be labor intensive and time consuming to actually extrapolate the various measurements.
    2. It occurred to me that this sort of problem has actually been solved reasonably well.  Marty McGuire 3 and Amy Hurst created a system for using pictures of hands with standardized objects to extrapolate hand measurements for the creation of custom 3D printed objects.  In the case of their NickelForScale project, they used a photography setup and OpenCV to create custom rings.  While OpenCV isn’t exactly the easiest thing to dive into, one it was figured out could reap huge time savings in gathering the measurements necessary to create custom prosthetics.
  3. Customizing Printable Prosthetics
    1. The multi-step process of taking pictures of a subject’s hands, extrapolating the necessary measurements, calculating the scaling factor, scaling the files up or down, then printing seems fairly involved to me.  While none of these individual steps are actually that complex, it is entirely possible to automate much of this and lower the barrier to getting people involved.
    2. One interesting problem that is created by scaling parts is that certain parts of a design probably shouldn’t be scaled – such as the channels for routing cables or holes for the Chicago screws.4 This inadvertent scaling problem can be completely solved by use of a parametric modelling program, such as (my personal favorite) OpenSCAD.  The “trick” is to scale the model and distribute the various channels for routing cables and screw holes to the appropriate positions to match the new scale – without scaling the diameter of these voids.
    3. One of the really great things about the Cyborg Beast prosthetic model is its extremely realistic and organic appearance.  While OpenSCAD is definitely well suited to creating functional models, it is not as obvious how to create organic seeming solids.  Fortunately, MakerBot’s handsomest and most modest blogger5 posted a very comprehensive tutorial on creating organic solids with OpenSCAD.
    4. Last night I got started on creating a parametric Cyborg Beast model.  While I’m not going for a completely faithful translation of the Cyborg Beast into a parametric model, I’m shooting for a reasonable facsimile of the most important structural and cosmetic features of the Cyborg Beast.  Below is a screenshot of this work in progress.  There’s no thumb joint in this model yet, but it’s coming along.
Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype

Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype

Obviously, there’s more work to do embellishing this model, including adding the thumb joint, hollowing out the underside, adding the knuckle stops for the fingers, and the voids for routing the cables and screws.  However, it’s not that bad for a little bit of quick OpenSCAD hackery.  After that’s done, the various other parts would need to be replicated in OpenSCAD as well.

Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype with original Cyborg Beast overlaid

Cyborg Beast OpenSCAD prototype with original Cyborg Beast overlaid

  1. That is to say, a lot more than zero! []
  2. Both of you! []
  3. Don’t let the abandoned website fool you – he’s a busy guy moving fast making awesome things []
  4. Head’s up – Chicago screws have a slightly more common and slightly less SFW name []
  5. AHEM *cough* []

Fix a Fitbit Ultra Flashing Display

Fitbit Ultra

Fitbit Ultra

If you’re looking for a way to fix the flickering or flashing LCD display on your Fitbit Ultra, I’ve got a few tips to help you on your way.  This post is basically broken into three parts – how to revive a Fitbit Ultra, my experiences with Fitbit’s support, and an update about me.

How to Fix the Fitbit Ultra LCD Display Flashing “FITBIT 4.14″

I bought my Fitbit Ultra about 15 months ago and misplaced it about six months ago, only finding it again on Wednesday.  The device was entirely unresponsive, so I plugged it into the USB charging base overnight.  The next morning it would flicker and flash the LCD display saying only “FITBIT 4.14″.  Here’s what I did:

  • Found Fitbit Ultra, plugged into USB base overnight.  The result was the LCD display flickered and flashed only “FITBIT 4.14″.
  • Unplugged Fitbit, pressed the button, and discovered the only thing it would do is flicker “FITBIT 4.14″.
  • I plugged it back into the USB base, pressed the button, and it still flickered the same message.
  • With the Fitbit connected to the USB base, I turned the base upside down and inserted the end of a paperclip into the recessed reset button. The Fitbit still flickered the same message.
  • I let the Fitbit remain connected to the USB base for another entire day.  At the end of that day I discovered that I could cycle through the display options – but the time on the Fitbit was entirely wrong.
  • I re-downloaded the Fitbit Ultra software, re-installed it, re-logged into the software, and let it sync with the Fitbit.  After a few minutes of this, the Fitbit was back to life!

Experiences with Fitbit Support

In trying to revive my Fitbit, the first thing I tried was searching the Fitbit website and support forums, without success.  After that I reached out to Fitbit’s support team explaining I tried the basics.1 The response from Fitbit’s support was that their records reflected my Fitbit was out of warranty and that they were making a “a one-time offer, for one (1) Fitbit One Tracker” for $49.  I found this response incredibly disappointing.  I would have appreciated something, even a token effort at helping me to fix my Fitbit instead of an upsale.  I realize they’ve got a business to run, but offering “one-time offers” for upsales it not a suitable substitute for actual product support.  While I would assume a warranty would cover a product’s functions, I wouldn’t have expected that they would abandon support after the warranty period.

Personal Update

A little over a year ago I bought a Fitbit Ultra to help me track steps, activity, etc towards my ambition to lose weight and be more active.  While I tried to introduce more activity and made a point of checking out the steps I had logged, using an online food diary called was easily the most helpful thing for me.

Last year was very successful, overall.  From 222.5 pounds in January 2013 I dropped to a low of 193.0 in June.  Since that time I’ve slowly gained a some weight – back to 203.5 now.  The most important things I did to lose weight were to eat something for breakfast, walk a little more, and eat less.  I tried to cut out or cut back on potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice and increase eggs, cheese, yogurt, protein, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and drink more water.

In the months since June, I haven’t been walking as much, have been eating more delicious pizza, sandwiches, and burritos.  I want to feel a little remorseful about this, but I just can’t.  :)

  1. Restart, reinstall, reboot, lather, rinse, repeat, etc, etc, etc []