Robohand wins public support, Absa sponsorship

Absa took sponsorship to a new level in 2014, by creating a platform for up and coming designers in South Africa to be recognised at its stand at the 2014 Design Indaba Expo.

Under the theme, ‘Make Think Become Did’, it invited consumers to visit the stand and vote for their favourite design.

The product with the most public votes was the Robohand, designed by Richard van As. It creates 3D printed and aluminium CNC machined, anatomically driven, custom fitted, mechanical devices to help limb different individuals as an alternative to standard prosthetics. An advantage to this design is that anyone around the world with a 3D printer will have the opportunity to print a 3D copy of his or her own robotic hand.

The Robohand design has won a yearlong mentorship from Absa’s Enterprise Development team

Industrial accident leads to world innovation

Van As had a woodworking accident in May 2011, severing all his fingers on his right hand. Straight out of hospital, he set to work in researching and developing a finger replacement. He discovered that prosthetics are not affordable for the layman and there are no functioning replacement digits.

After creating his first few prototypes, Richard contacted Ivan Owen through the internet to ask if he would like to collaborate on the design of a replacement finger for tradesmen. Owen had created a giant mechanical prop hand, so he was enthusiastic to join the project.

In September of 2012, Robohand was officially named and the first working prototype was published. The next few months were a whirlwind of research and development and the first aluminium hand was fitted to a very young boy in South Africa.

With the advances in technology, Robohand turned to 3D printing as a cost effective, quick way of prototyping. However, when Robohand discovered the potential of 3D printing and the endless possibilities, it looked at re-creating the aluminium hand in 3D print. It was donated two Makerbot Replicator 2, 3D printers to kick start the new vision of Robohand.

The first successful prototype was published in January 2013 with the design being published open source. Thereafter Owen left Robohand and van As continued with the research and development, refining Robohand, while focusing on safety of the device, applying the highest grade materials but keeping the device cost effective.

Fittings go international

As of November 2013, he has streamlined Robohand and fitted more than 200 hands to individuals all over the world. This is possible due to 3D scanning, hard moulds and 3D printing. Between January and November 2013, Robohand has launched the Robofinger and Roboarm.

3D printing is the process of extruding layer upon layer of plastic over the same area, building up a 3D composite. Robohand make use of an online platform called Thingiverse where one can download the free designs for Robohand. It published an assembly manual on the same platform for 3D enthusiasts to create their own basic Robohand.

The company has worked tirelessly to source medical grade hardware and medical splinting material to ensure the safety of the wearer. This also enables the wearer to bath and swim with the device.

Recognition, media uptake

2013 has been a year of great accomplishments for Robohand. It was nominated for the Rockefeller Innovators Award and it has exhibitions in the Science Museum of London and the Youngstown museum. Its first printed article was in Popular Mechanics magazine in February.

Since then, there have been many internet articles including the Time Magazine. It has been in print in the You and Huisgenoot magazines, and in November, in the Brainstorm Magazine. It has been televised on SABC on various shows as well as CNBC. Fox News did an interview with van As and the company was featured on Radio 702 in South Africa and NPR in the US.

Robohand has just moved into its new office space in Centurion, Pretoria. For more information, go to, or on Facebook at

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