The loss of a limb can be as much of an emotional obstacle as a physical hindrance during the formative years of an individual's life, but a 3-D printed glove stylized after Iron Man's menacing mitts is designed to make children feel like superheros when they don the prosthetic hand.
Pat Starace, of Pat Starace Research & Development, says he aims to put the "fun" in functional, with regard to prosthetics. Starace is an animator and mechanical designer.
"The main objective was to create a hand that could help a child by solving a mechanical problem, looking awesome and raising their self-esteem to superhero levels," says Starace as he demos the glove. "There had to be no strings or mechanics that could distract form the visual impact."
To put on the glove, the individual would first remove the hand's electronic module and the casing at the base of the wrist. Then, the individual can use the gauntlet's anchors to secure it to his or her wrist before snapping the case closed.
When a child tilts his or her forearm down, the glove's fingers close in a grasping motion. And when the foreman is lifted back up, the fingers spread back out.
On the palm of the gauntlet, there's a circular light that glows that emulates Iron Man's thrusters. On the back of the glove, there's a container meant to house whatever gadgets a superhero kid could use to improve the quality of his or her life.
"The hand is a container for modern tech: microcontrollers, wireless devices, smart watches, sensors, accelerometers, NFC, RFID and almost anything else," says Starace.
Each of the glove's fingers are positioned on their axis. Starace says designing the separation between fingers added more work to the fabrication on the prosthetic hand, but it's that form factor that makes the glove awesome.
"When Iron Man makes that classic pose with his hand held out, fingers spread and the thrusters glowing," says Starace, "if the fingers weren't spread, it wouldn't have the same effect. Creating a hand with independent axis for each finger is more difficult, but well worth it for the total effect."
There's more still the hand can do, as Starace says he didn't reveal all in the glove's demo video. Starace says there a voice control element to the glove, which he plans to show off in a future video.
With commercial-grade 3D printing services more accessible than ever, consumers may not even have to wait for Starace's Iron Man gauntlet to go into mass production.
Starace said he intends to give the Iron Man hand to families for free and plans to collaborate with e-Nable, a group of volunteers that advocates for 3D-printing of prostheses and helps by donating their efforts to children in need. Starace said you could "put this on a child today," but this is the first model and has had no real-world application yet.