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Student building a better prosthetic hand at PCC's MakerSpace

Jordan Nickerson develops mechanical prototype for mass-production at lower price


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JAMES HILL - Jordan Nickerson is developing the mechanical prototype in hopes of mass-producing it as a cheaper alternative for the public.

Portland Community College student Jordan Nickerson of Kelso, Wash., is giving himself a hand. Literally.

The 23-year-old first-year computer science major, who was born without much of his left hand, is fabricating his own prosthetic limb that has moving fingers to better grip objects. With a screwdriver and lots of patience, Nickerson has sculpted several versions of the hand, which he hopes to perfect for production to sell to the world as a cheaper alternative to cumbersome and expensive prosthetics.

The model can grasp objects and is made of carbon fiber, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, the material Legos are made of) and biodegradable corn plastics, Velcro, duct tape and a mouse pad — all at a cost of about $40.

“I have always had a fascination with prosthetics, for obvious reasons since I don’t have a hand,” Nickerson said. “It’s connected by two hinges and I put my arm in the socket and I flex my wrist and the fingers close.

“All five fingers close at once to make a fist, but with a little bit of tensioning you can make it where the thumb and the index finger touch first so if you wanted to pick up something small, you can.”

The materials he used to put the hand together were made by the army of 3-D printers in PCC’s MakerSpace — a creative lab located at the Sylvania Campus, 12000 S.W. 49th Ave. MakerSpace, coordinated by PCC engineering instructor Gregg Meyer, is an interdisciplinary innovation studio dedicated to the art and science of making things. Staff and students have access to the 3-D printers and scanners, CNC (computer numerical control) machines, lasers, vinyl cutters, sheet metal tools, plastic injection molder and even a sewing machine.

“In just six months of operation the MakerSpace has grown from an engineering prototyping lab to an innovation studio serving students, faculty, and services all across campus,” Meyer said. “I couldn’t be happier with this progression. Jordan is parlaying his ‘disability’ into a new business venture using the MakerSpace to design and fabricate 3-D printed prosthetic hands; ones that work and fit better than similar devices costing 100 times as much.”

The MakerSpace is funded in part by money from the Intel Corporation.

“Having a multitude of resources at the fingertips of students, that’s exciting,” said Janet Rash, Intel’s Northwest Region community engagement manager. “The Maker Movement has allowed companies like Intel to get more creative in how they try to attract interest in engineering and technology careers. I think when you’re doing things, it’s easier to make the leap to what an engineer might do or a computer scientist might do, and the imagination of a student starts to expand.”

Nickerson, who resides in northwest Portland, plans to market the hand as the centerpiece of a business plan. He wants to establish a company that builds prosthetic hands on demand through requests he gets from a website and phone app.

People would scan their arm and send the measurements to them on email. Nickerson then would print it on 3-D printing machines and ship the prosthetic to the customer directly. The cost to the customer he estimates would be $300, and if people buy one, he’ll donate another to an impoverished child who needs one.

“If you can afford to buy an Xbox, you can afford to buy this hand,” Nickerson said. “The downside with the prosthetic industry is that, when I was a kid, the basic prosthetics were just hooks, and they cost around $2,000 to $5,000.”

He said you had to manipulate your body to use them, and they were difficult to use.

He added, “With this one, it works with your natural body movement. It works on your wrist motion. Since it’s 3-D printed it’s extremely lightweight and customizable to that person. Eventually, we want to try to reach everyone in the world.”

For more information, visit news.pcc.edu/2014/07/jordan-nickerson.

James Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the communications specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since 1999.



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