By Brandon Gillet
When six-year-old “Iron Man” Sebastian Chavarria arrived at uOttawa on March 20, he garnered national attention from media outlets. The boy, whose myriad congenital problems left him with a tracheotomy and a partially deformed left hand, received a new prosthetic hand as part of the uOttawa Makerspace Prosthetic Challenge.
The competition, which started in November, saw participants design and print in 3D a functional prosthetic for Sebastian to replace his American-made, mail-order prosthetic hand, which was based solely on measurements and therefore did not fit him perfectly.
“When we launched the challenge, we actually had Sebastian come in and we scanned his hand,” said Makerspace administrator Vishv Vivek Sharma. “So the teams had the perfect scale of what his hand looks like, not just the measurements.”
The Makerspace provided all the software required and held regular workshops to guide the 73 registered teams throughout the competition.
In the end, Sebastian chose the “Iron Man” prosthetic designed by second-year engineering students Robert Rayson and Shannon Lee, who were awarded the $1,000 prize.
Lee described how the prosthetic, which was made to look like a robot, allows Sebastian to grip things simply by bending his wrist, while individual finger movement is controlled by pushing a button.
But don’t count out runner-up Ruben Fernandez, who was also awarded $1,000 for his prosthetic hand, because his design also had a few features favoured by Sebastian.
The family plans to continue working with uOttawa and the Makerspace to periodically update or make alterations to the hand. They would also like to combine features from both finalists’ prosthetics to increase the comfort and functionality for Sebastian. Both finalists are willing to work with the family in the future.
“We’re glad to be working with the Makerspace to be able to create more hands and awareness for Sebastian,” said Sebastian’s father, Enrique Chavarria.
According to Chavarria, the main benefit of a 3D printed prosthetic is cost. At between $20 and $50 to make, time rather than money becomes the limiting factor. This is a stark contrast to conventional prosthetics, whose price ranges from $25,000 to $50,000, which is very expensive considering how quickly young Sebastian will outgrow them.
Sebastian showcased his new prosthetic at the SITE building amidst a buzz of excitement and smiles.
“Everybody is really excited,” says Sharma. “I think it’s great.”
Not only will Sebastian be able to play with his friends, keep up with his older brother, and ride a bike, but the “Iron Man” design makes him feel a little more like his favourite hero.
“There’s the cool factor,” says Chavarria. “He gets a functioning hand and it looks robotic, making him feel like a super hero.”