For the past four years industrial designer Andrej Dukic has been working on a functional and sustainably-priced 3D printed prosthetic hand for amputees. It’s called Maker Hand. In this episode, Adii and Andrej talk about the need to find a meaning in life, even when you’re comfortable; the injury that inspired his project; the importance and dangers of competition; and a desire to create a meaningful impact.
Andrej describes himself as a maker and an aspiring first-principle thinker—though he’s not a huge fan of labels. He likes the label of “maker” because of its versatility, but for the sake of credibility, he uses “industrial designer.”
As a kid, Andrej was creative and liked to dabble in drawing and art, he says, but he had a pretty easy life, so he never had to try too hard. He became someone with a lot of potential who wanted to be “overrated”--to put in little effort and do well regardless. He describes his childhood as comfortable...but lacking in purpose.
“I was looking to achieve something great, but I was just stuck in that place of infinite possibility … and no direction.”
An injury to his ankle and wrist forced him to re-center his focus. He could no longer participate in the sports and recreational activities he once had. This pushed him out of his comfort zone and into the life of the mind.
He was using his industrial design degree to design furniture at the time. But following this injury, he found himself interested in design and technology surrounding body prosthetics. At first, he wanted to get his injured foot amputated and replaced with a prosthetic.
While laying in bed on a high-pain day, he planned to spend the day drawing. He soon realized, however, that the pain in his wrist was too great. He found himself considering the limitations of prosthetic limbs, specifically prosthetic hands. He imagined how frustrating it would be, he says, to want to create something, and not have the ability to do so.
“I just realized how tragic it would be if you wanted to build something and you didn’t have hands.”
Maker Hand started when Andrej saw that there was a huge potential for mechanical prosthetics. A robotic hand can cost hundreds of thousands of euros, Andrej explains. He decided he would take the mechanical hand—a design that’s been around for hundreds of years—and advance it, using 3D printing technology. With a 3D printer, it would cost just 30 euros for parts, Andrej says.
To conduct research for Maker Hand, he visited a hospital that specialized in amputations where he was connected with a family, specifically a young boy who Andrej would end up building hands for. As children do, the young boy gave him merciless critique, which ultimately totally transformed Andrej’s approach to his project.
“The Maker Hand project has been perceived from the beginning as a way to democratize the science that has been done in the last hundred years around prosthetics and bring it to everybody that needs it all around the world.”
Andrej’s hand would take part in an Olympic-style competition for prosthetic technology, which would take place every four years and serve to demonstrate where the technology was at and where it would need to go. Ironically enough, the hand that won that first competition was one of the least expensive prosthetics to make—which demonstrates the validity of Andrej’s mission with Maker Hand.
With this hand, Andrej is standing up to bureaucracy and democratizing access to quality prosthetics. He wants to create not only a useful and innovative prosthetic that can change people’s lives, but to do so for a low and affordable price.
Follow the progress of Maker Hand here.