(Pocket-lint) - The uses for desktop 3D printers become more varied with every day that passes, but few could change lives in the way that Markerbot's Replicator 2 has recently. Thanks to a 3D-printed Robohand, children and adults who have lost or were born without fingers can gain new dexterity at a fraction of the cost of a prosthetic hand.

After losing his fingers in a woodworking accident, South African Richard Van As joined up with Ivan Owen, a theatrical prop designer from the US, to design a new, working hand using a 3D printer. Up stepped Markerbot, which donated a Replicator 2 to each of them so they could work together on prototypes even though they were thousands of miles apart.

Normal prosthetics can cost up to $10,000 per finger, but a 3D-printed hand is only a tiny fraction of that.

Van As posted his story about Robohand and was contacted through Facebook by several others who had suffered accidents and parents of children born without fingers. Liam was one of those kids. His parents couldn't afford a prosthetic hand, and he would outgrow one rapidly anyway, so 3D printing was a perfect solution. He received his Robohand in January this year.

Since then, all plans of the Robohand project have been posted on Markerbot's website Thingiverse.com.  They have been downloaded thousands of times and allow those with 3D printers to replicate the Robohand to help others.

Sure, we like Dita von Teese's 3D printed dress, but we like the idea that 3D printing is giving children and disadvantaged adults independence even more.

Writing by Rik Henderson.