Team Unlimbited outfits kids around the world with colourful 3D printed prosthetics, free of charge.
Stephen Davies and Drew Murray aren’t your regular garden workers. In a backyard like any other in Swansea, UK, the duo works evenings and weekends in an unassuming small green shed, surrounded by bushes. It’s what goes on inside the shed that’s remarkable: meet Team Unlimbited, a self-funded project that gives children with disabilities around the world 3D printed arms and hands – completely free of charge.
3D printed limbs have been around for some time now. It’s a much faster, cheaper way to manufacture prosthetics than ever before, opening up a world of opportunity to those who’ve decided they’d like a helping hand. Initiatives like e-NABLE, for instance, are hard at work providing open source designs for 3D printed prosthetics, and putting makers in touch with one-handed users worldwide.
And while e-NABLE is part of the partners’ origin story – Davies, a computer-assisted design engineer who was born without a hand, reached out to Murray, the only e-NABLE volunteer based in the UK at the time – Team Unlimbited sets itself apart from other 3D printed prosthetic makers in several ways.
Beyond the unique setting of Team Unlimbited’s headquarters, which is bursting with equipment and photos of children they’ve helped, the duo’s M.O. is extraordinary. Kids get to design their own colours and patterns, then Davies and Murray handle the rest, completely free of charge. Their open-source design files mean that anyone with access to a 3D printer, some Velcro, and a bit of fishing line can manufacture their own prosthetic locally.
“We are not a charity, we’re just two men in a shed. It’s rewarding to use our professional skills in a different way,” Murray told press.
Each hand costs Team Unlimbited only £30 in materials, and takes about 12 hours to make. Currently the pair are swamped with requests, but that only motivates them further.
“I work full time, I’ve got kids, I’ve got a 10-month-old baby; we spend all our evenings and weekends doing this,” Davies said. “We do it all for free, we don’t even charge postage.”
Team Unlimbited’s first recipient was nine-year-old Isabella, who was outfitted with a dazzling fuchsia arm. Isabella was already quite capable with her biological “little arm,” as she calls it, but her 3D printed version has allowed increased ease in daily tasks like playing the piano, walking her dog, playing sports, and turning pages in a book. “It helps me a lot with things I can’t normally do, and things I haven’t tried yet,” Isabella said.
After Isabella’s father first heard about Team Unlimbited through Facebook, Isabella selected a pink and purple theme for her 3D printed arm. Davies and Murray set to work, with triumphant results.
“The confidence it gave her was amazing,” said Isabella’s mother. “It stopped her feeling self-conscious. Everyone is different in their own way, but for her this makes her difference a bit more special.”
A video of Isabella receiving her Team Unlimbited arm went viral, stacking up two million views on YouTube. Isabella even went on to star in an advertising campaign for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
While Davies and Murray’s 3D printed arms aren’t quite as resilient as traditional prosthetics, children quickly outgrow their current version and require new ones, meaning their new hands do not need to last forever. And for clients like Isabelle, that means an exciting upgrade with new colours and patterns. To date, she has received three arms from Team Unlimbited, each an evolution of her original pink and purple theme.
Meanwhile, demand continues to skyrocket in the Team Unlimbited garden shed, keeping the duo up to their elbows (3D printed or otherwise) in new requests.