EVANSVILLE — Some kids who live in the Central African country of Cameroon aren't able to attend school if they have limb differences, according to Donna Zimmerman.
A group of local students is working to remedy that.
Ivy Tech Community College Evansville robotics club students and North High School Project Lead the Way students have partnered to help some of those children get into the classroom.
Using 3D printers, students are working on two projects: a manual prosthetic hand and a bionic hand.
"It feels amazing to impact someone’s life," Helaena Pfeiffer, 15, said. "It's not an opportunity a lot of freshmen or high schoolers get to do."
This is the first project of its kind for both Ivy Tech and North, officials said.
“It’s been great because we get access to things that we didn’t have before,” Pfeiffer said.
Work on the manual prosthetic hand started last month. It's for e-NABLE, an international group that matches people who have 3D printers with people who need prosthetic devices. Zimmerman, Ivy Tech professor and program chair for advanced automation and robotics technology, and Brian Bobbitt, North's Project Lead the Way master teacher, signed up to be a site through e-NABLE.
To donate for e-NABLE, the devices must be inexpensive and easy to make, Zimmerman said.
"Internationally, there’s a huge demand," she said. "They have a current wish list for 104 devices for Vietnam. ... We’re hoping to make a difference where kids can go to school. Working with them on where the need is."
Currently, the hand can open and close the fingers. Students want to give it a bit more functionality and aim to make an option for a pinch grip with two or three fingers and maybe other grips.
The other project, building a bionic hand, started this week. Zimmerman said some people are using brain waves, but they are using sensors.
"The difference is this uses sensors to read something a person is doing, usually another arm or shoulder muscle," she said. "It reads what you’re doing with that muscle and amplifies it for use on another arm."
North Project Lead the Way students are doing much of the design with CAD, computer-aided design, as well as changes and adjustments on the prosthetic arm, while Ivy Tech robotics club students are assembling, fitting and thermoforming the hand.
Pfeiffer plans to be a mechanical engineer when she’s older. She helps with CAD work for the projects.
Students admit it’s a lot of trial and error.
“Sometimes the screw holes don’t come out right because you can’t be totally accurate whenever you’re using melting plastic,” Pfeiffer said.
But students work out the kinks.
“I enjoy building things, breaking things and fixing why it broke,” Pfeiffer said.
Caleigh Massey, 15, likes to help people so she joined the project.
“I just like seeing people happy,” Massey said. “I like to see the joy in their face.”
Sophomore Alec West, 15, said it helps to have peers to bounce ideas off to accomplish necessary steps.
“It’s fun being able to challenge yourself, design different things and solve problems,” West said.
Bobbitt, author of “3D Printing Made Simple for Education,” said this project aligns well with North's introduction to design course because it teaches students about problem-solving, the design process and how to communicate an idea.
“The best thing is that (students) keep their foot on the gas, and they’re always thinking," he said. "There are times I say go with an idea they have so they can figure out for themselves if it'll work or not."
Ivy Tech robotics club student Andrew Meyer, 21, said this project has helped everyone learn different skills.
"It's a little more liberating," Meyer said. "I could even come up with my own robot animation and maybe in my career as a teacher make tools for classes."
Another robotics club student, Jesse Hagler, said a lot of trial and error with a project like this involves realizing what you thought may have worked on paper won't actually work.
Hagler, 28, said it's a great feeling to be part of something that will potentially help people who may not have the means to help themselves.
"I love being part of that," he said. "I think it's great to see a lot of people passionate about this type of thing, getting involved in doing it and loving doing it."
Students plan to display the arm at the 11th Annual Public Education Foundation Technology Showcase from 4:30-7 p.m. March 8 at Ivy Tech Evansville. The event is free and open to the public. It includes hands-on projects and interactive activities using a variety of technology.
“I think it's really important for people to see how PEF provides grants to many of these schools and to see how your education dollars are spent," said Kate Reibel, PEF associate director.
Bobbitt said the base designs for the hands will continuously be improved and modified depending on the needs of each person who may receive the prosthetic.
Once approved by e-NABLE, Zimmerman anticipates the prosthetic hand will become an Ivy Tech service project for Advanced Manufacturing 101 classes.