Bellingham man's creation lends mechanical helping hand

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- A self-admitted sci-fi geek in Bellingham has turned his unusual hobby into a life-changer for a little boy in South Africa.

When Ivan Owen isn't selling school supplies, he likes to make strange devices.

He has fashioned a rapid-fire ping pong ball launcher out of a leaf blower, and crafted a remote control bowling hat that buzzes around his place.

But it was Owen's costume mechanical hands that caught the eye of a South African man watching YouTube.

"(The man) just said, 'Hey, I lost some of my fingers. Have you ever considered taking what you've done here with this and applying it to this sort of problem?'" said Owen.

The two men, ten thousand miles apart, began collaborating. With a 3D printer, they refined and combined the best of their designs.

A mother in South Africa saw the men's work on Facebook and asked them to help her 5-year-old son Liam, who was born without fingers.

"He lacks the ability to grasp anything," Owen said of the boy.

The men went to work and fitted Liam for the device that has since been named Robohand.

"And he was excited by the fact that that it looked like a robot hand," Owen said.

When the boy bends his wrist using the Robohand, cables pull and his fingers close, opening new opportunities. Liam is now doing things never expected, including picking up coins, holding a basketball, and playing with sunscreen.

"The moment he made the realization how it functions, he excitedly shouted, 'It copies me!'" said Owen.

Liam's family couldn't afford $20,000 mechanical hand, so the men made his for just $150 and a promise from Liam not to use it to hit anyone.

Owen said he has received a dozen requests for Robohands, but can't afford to fulfill the orders.

For more information on Robohands, check out