Wheelchair Racer Gets 3D Printed Gloves

As the technology that fuels the 3D printing industry continues to improve, there are more and more stories of individuals who are making history by printing some of the coolest and most functional things imaginable. One family in Nicholasville, Kentucky has created 3D gloves for their daughter, Aerelle Jones, who is a record-holding wheelchair racer.


An Exciting Development

Although 3D printing is certainly nothing new and the technology has been in use for years, the fact that the Jones family was able to use a 3D printer at the Jessamine County Public Library to create such a sophisticated product for their daughter is simply astonishing.

Before this development, the only other group in the world to have created gloves like these was the University of Illinois, who leads the world in assisting wheelchair athletes. There is a 3D printing lab for students in the business school, and while it may not come as much of a surprise that the folks at one of the most prestigious universities in the country can do it, the fact that the Jones family pulled it off in a public library is simply mind-blowing.

How They Did It

To get the project rolling, Aerelle’s father, along with her brother, Garrett, took a cast of her hands that they could later scan into the system. It’s true that casts can hinder the accuracy of the finished product, so the Jones family was very careful to scan Aerelle’s fingers separately for the best possible precision. Her hand was cast in the exact position she uses to move her wheelchair, which allowed them to create the most accurate and beneficial glove possible.

They chose to use 3D printing to do it for several reasons. Wheelchair athletes need not only strength, but also efficient movements. The gloves these athletes wear have strike pads inside them, which is designed to hit the wheel and propel the racer forward. The gloves available on the market today do come in different sizes, but Paralympic competitors like Aerelle have unique needs, which means that a general variation may not fit as well as it should, and it may hinder the efficiency of her movements. What’s more, the materials used for 3D printing are very light, which can add very important tenths of seconds to Aerelle’s finishing time.

The Initial Concept

Of course, the Jones family doesn’t take credit for the entire idea. In fact, it was a U of I student by the name of Arielle Rausin who came up with the idea in the first place. Through mathematics and experimentation, she found that 3D printed gloves made from a type of polyester plastic called PLA, short for polylactic acid, weighed only about a third of the gloves that were currently available to Paralympic athletes. The Jones family just took her idea a step further by printing gloves designed for a very specific – and a very special – pair of hands.

With heartwarming stories like these, it’s easy to see just how much 3D printing technology can change lives. Aerelle Jones can certainly testify to that; she’s slated to compete in the Paralympic Games, which run from September 7, to September 18, 2016 and take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.