The 9-year-old girl, who was born with a partial palm, a two-digit thumb and no fingers on her right hand, can do that because she has a brand-new set of fingers. Part RoboCop, part Barbie, her new hand is bright pink and called a "Cyborg Beast."
It was created using a 3-D printer, a manufacturing tool that functions like a fancy glue gun, building up or "printing" objects layer by layer with liquefied plastic. Until fairly recently, such printers, which make things from computer-generated designs, were massive and massively expensive. Now, consumer models go for about $2,000.
Shea's new hand, a prototype with a Velcro band that keeps it in place, was not the result of advances in the world of prosthetics and wasn't fitted in a doctor's office. The kid-friendly accouterment with 45 component parts was made at an art school and came together as a result of a worldwide collaboration between a man who makes monster suits for low-budget horror movies, a woodworking artist in South Africa, a robot-loving high school student in California, a guitar-loving tinkerer from Kentuckyand an especially willing artist from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Frankie Flood.
"The fantastic part of all of this technology is that it's very accessible," said Joseph K. Brenner, director of clinical prosthetics at the Michigan Institute of for Electronic Limb Development in Detroit and a clinical prosthetics specialist. "It's all very much in its infancy."
Flood, an associate professor in the metals department at UWM's Peck School of the Arts, first heard about Shea just before Christmas through Milwaukee Makerspace, a social group for people who build and design things. That group had, in turn, been contacted by a relatively new Google Plus community of "thinkers, tinkerers, engineers and artists" working on prosthetic hands called E-Nable.
It's a story about the Internet bringing people together around an emerging technology and a particular problem to create a burst of innovation...