Coming Up Short Handed
Kyle Maxey posted on November 15, 2012 |

Inspired by two distinctly different events, two men find a common problem and engineer a solution that they can share with the world.

The distance from Washington State to South Africa is roughly 10,000 miles. But distance can mislead people about how close two places can be.  Take, for example, the story of Richard Van As and Ivan Owen.

Richard, a carpenter by trade, was working in his shop one afternoon in May 2011.  While trying to meet a deadline Richard had an accident. Richard had severed two of his fingers, and cut off sizeable portions of two more. A trip to the hospital was in order.

Meeting with surgeons at the Hospital, Richard elected to have surgery that would get him back to work as soon as possible. His decision ruled out the possibility of his fingers being reattached.  

Meanwhile in Washington State, Ivan Owen a PLC programmer and automation technician had just uploaded a video to Youtube that featured an articulating hand he had built. Thinking of his mechanical hand as a hobby, Ivan had no clear direction for his project… That’s when he received an email from

After scouring the Internet for devices that could replace his fingers, Richard couldn’t find any options that were within a reasonable budget. In December of 2011 Richard found Ivan’s video.  He quickly shot off an email to Ivan.

Reading Richard’s email, Ivan recalled memories of his childhood fascination with the mechanics of hands. Ivan was immediately intrigued by the prospect of helping Richard develop a working prosthetic. 

Since that December, Richard and Ivan have been working on developing a prosthetic. And they’re remarkably close. Having received a plastic mold of Richard’s hand, Ivan began creating a prosthetic based on its form. Two of these prosthesis now exist.  One lives in Washington and the other in South Africa.

Aided by the internet, the two men have been able to improve their design and are now reaching out to public to ask for funds to compete their project.

While Richard will be the first to have a working model of this prosthetic, the goal of this project isn’t to make a one-off model.  Richard and Ivan have ambitions to create an open-source tool kit so anyone in need can create their own device.

South Africa and Washington State as far away as two places can possibly be from one another, but as Richard and Ivan have proven, a common problem has brought them closer together.

If you’d like to read more about Richard and Ivan’s Project Visit Coming Up Short Handed

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