How 3D printers are changing kids' lives in war-torn Sudan

There are some 50,000 amputees in South Sudan. A few good men have set up camp with a 3D printer to lend a helping hand.

Daniel Omar, now 16, lost both of his arms two years ago when the Sudanese government dropped a bomb on nearby rebel forces. Not Impossible Labs

When Daniel Omar was 14, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. While tending his family's cows, the South Sudanese government dropped a bomb on rebel forces nearby, and the boy lost both his arms. But his first thoughts did not focus on his own misfortune: "I'm going to make such hard work for my family in the future," he told TIME reporter Alex Perry in the spring of 2012. "If I could have died, I would have."

Daniel's story was enough to prompt philanthropist Mick Ebeling, co-founder and CEO of research firm Not Impossible Labs, to head to the Nuba Mountains and meet Daniel in person. Ebeling had already worked on a project using 3D printers to build prosthetics for kids in South Africa. He was so moved by Daniel's plight that he turned to a world-class team of thinkers and doers, including the inventor of the Robohand, an MIT neuroscientist, a 3D printing company in California, and funding from Intel and Precipart, to see how they could help Daniel and kids like him. He called it Project Daniel.

Fast-forward a year and some change. Now, Not Impossible Labs has its own little lab at a local hospital and is able to print prosthetic arms for $100 a pop in fewer than six hours. Meanwhile, Daniel not only got his left-arm prosthetic in November, but he is currently employed at the hospital helping to print prosthetics for others.

Ebeling says the printed arm isn't as sophisticated as others out there -- Daniel won't be able to lift heavy objects or control his fingers with great precision -- but he was able to feed himself for the first time in two years. (He ate chocolate.) The prosthetic is affordable, and is being produced locally, so it also serves as an economically viable stand-in until the tech for 3D-printed prosthetics improves and comes down in cost in the coming years.

Not Impossible Labs, which has already fitted others with arms, says it hopes to extend its campaign to thousands like Daniel. It's even made the design open source in the hopes that others around the world will be able to replicate the project, setting up similar labs to provide low-cost prosthetics to those in need.

See the minds behind the project in action in the video below:

 

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