When Ian Davis was just 17-years-old, he built a myoelectric prosthetic arm and hand for a high school project. Almost 30 years later, he’s still using what he learned but for his own benefit now, after having four fingers on his left hand amputated in 2018. His prosthetic, designed and built all by himself, is astonishingly lifelike, despite containing no electronics whatsoever.
A purely mechanical prosthetic that relies on the wearer’s own movements instead of electric motors, batteries, and sensors attached to muscles, isn’t a new idea, but their capabilities are limited compared to prosthetics packed with more technology. For those who’ve lost hands and even parts of their entire arm, prosthetics like Dean Kamen’s ‘Luke’ arm are impressively capable, restoring a considerable amount of functionality. They’re not cheap, however, which can limit availability to those that need them most.
In 2017, Davis was diagnosed with a type of cancer known as Multiple Myeloma which can result in a weakening of the patient’s bones. In 2018, an accident in his workshop resulted in broken bones in his hand which eventually led to doctors having to amputate four of his fingers in order to save his life. Davis is left-handed, and the loss of functionality in that hand could have put an end to his ability to design and build things. Instead, while still recovering in the hospital, he drew up sketches for his own prosthetic, and has been improving, upgrading, and rebuilding the mechanical fingers ever since, sharing his progress on his YouTube channel.
Just last week, Davis shared a video of the latest and greatest version of his prosthetic that’s now able to spread and splay the individual fingers, expanding what he’s able to do with it. Davis’ amputation left him with half of his left hand and wrist still functional, so in lieu of electric motors, he’s able to curl and splay his artificial digits using a complex series of mechanical linkages powered and controlled by how he moves his hand and wrist.
As a self-proclaimed maker, Davis’ prosthetic fingers might just be the ultimate hack as they allow him to continue to not only pursue his passions and still stay productive in his workshop but also to continue to live his life and perform the mundane daily tasks that most of us don’t give a second thought to. And like many makers, Davis wants to share his designs, and what he’s learned, with the larger maker community in hopes that his prosthetics inspire and contribute to the designs of other prosthetics in order to make these important tools available, and more affordable, to people who need them.