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A Hand Up



3D printing transforms the lives of local kids

Technology. 3D Printing

"There are very few restrictions on what you can design and print," said Daniel Freedman, dean of SUNY New Paltz's School of Science and Engineering, shown here readying a 3D printer for SUNY New Paltz alum Jeffrey Snyder.


For years, 3D printing has been something that happened in labs and research centers far away from the Hudson Valley. But thanks to some recent funding initiatives, the effects of 3D-printed prosthetics for young children are now being seen close to home.


A year ago, Joseph Gilbert, then a second-grader at Chester Elementary School in Orange County, received a 3D-printed hand developed at the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center at SUNY New Paltz. Earlier this year, Aidan Davidson, also a second-grader at Marbletown Elementary School in Ulster County, was given a 3D-printed hand developed by a team of teachers in his school district.


An Economic Boom

“We’ve seen a meteoric rise in both the funding and uses for 3D-printed prototypes,” said Larry Gottlieb, the president and CEO of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, which founded the Hudson Valley 3D Printing initiative and helped create the SUNY New Paltz manufacturing center.

Officials believe that this surge of funding in the Hudson Valley will lead to scores of new jobs for engineering students. But for the parents and educators of children born with disabilities, the most important effect by far can be seen on the faces of the children now using prosthetic devices.

kids and technology, hudson valley kids 3D printing


A surge of confidence

“Aidan was always a very polite student,” said Stephen Protoss, the Marbletown art teacher who spearheaded the effort to develop the hand for Davidson. “This year he was becoming more self-conscious and a little tentative. When he got the hand, he seemed to grow about a foot and a half. I think it’s going to have a really positive effect on his outlook and the way people perceive him.”


Often designed in bright, bold colors and with names like “Cyborg Beast” or “Robohand,” 3D-printed prostheses enable children born without fully formed hands—or in some cases, legs—to retrain their muscles to flex and control the devices like a normal body part. The possibilities are endless, said Daniel Freedman, the dean of the SUNY New Paltz School of Science and Engineering and director of the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Technology Cheat Sheet


Science into magic

“3D printing is a truly transformational technology,” Freedman said. “It takes time to wrap your head around how much control it gives us to customize and transform our world. I'm really excited to see what marvelously inventive things the kids who grow up with this technology will do. 3D printing lets you fairly easily turn your imagination into reality, and that is magical.”


It took Protoss a month and a half to create the prototype for Aidan's hand. Then, during an end-of-the-year assembly, Aidan received the new, bright red hand, as the student body cheered loudly


Protoss and Gottlieb both agreed that as 3D technology is further integrated into the Hudson Valley’s schools, students will benefit from the cross-section of disciplines it combines.


“There’s a phenomenal crossroads between science, technology and the arts,” Gottlieb said, “and when you look at where 3D printing has been successful, it’s been because you need all of those disciplines to get the most out of it.”

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Jeff Simms lives in Beacon with his wife, son, and Biscuit the cat.