Not long ago, Jordan lost a few fingers of his own in an unfortunate encounter with a table saw.
“My son and I were building a boat and, apparently, the saw had a short,” said Jordan, a former E-6 Mercury aviator, currently working as a contractor with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. “I picked it up; it startled me when it went on and it cut my fingers off.”
Gone were the tips of his index and middle fingers, as well as his thumb.
“They used the tip of the index finger to attach to my middle finger because that is the more important finger for gripping, but movement is still limited,” he explained.
Even with physical therapy, Jordan found simple things difficult to accomplish.
“The toughest thing was buttoning my own shirt and jacket,” he said. “And going to an ATM machine was difficult because I couldn’t properly grip the card to insert it. I wanted to be able to type on my computer and pick things up. I wanted to be dexterous, but I wasn’t.”
Jordan soon learned that companies offering prosthetics are few and far between and those that do exist are expensive.
His lack of dexterity wasn’t acceptable to him, so his wife, Donna, told him to design his own prosthetic finger.
Her suggestion wasn’t all that far-fetched, as Jordan — an engineer by trade with a degree in physics and mathematics — has been developing products for more than 30 years and holds 13 different patents.
A few of his inventions include a new material used to secure ribbons, name tags and collar devices to uniforms and clothing; a nontoxic, multisurface kitchen and air sanitizer; a bullet-, flame- and shock-proof plastic that can be molded into various shapes and thicknesses; and a fun gun that shoots blasts of air over a distance of 40 feet.
“I started to think about how to copy the movement of a finger,” he said.
In the garage that doubles as his laboratory, Jordan got to work using materials he had around the house and soon had a rough workable prototype that he’s able to wear himself.
“The finger top is foam covered with resin,” he said, “and the other piece is PVC piping. The metal that holds it on is actually from a coat hanger.”
This simple device gives Jordan the dexterity needed to work buttons, type and pick things up. He can grasp items, including a single sheet of paper and that troublesome ATM card — but he’s still perfecting the design.
“People don’t realize the force that’s required to clasp onto something and lift it up,” he said. “I still need to improve the strength [of the finger].”
Jordan plans to hire an engineer and purchase a 3D printer so they can design and produce the prosthetic finger out of one solid, hinged piece of functional plastic.
“With the 3D printer, we can design it exactly the way we want it,” he said. “For anyone missing a digit, we can print it based on their specific needs.”
Having encountered others like him along the way, Jordan has noticed a difference between the sexes, especially between boys and girls.
“Boys think it’s cool to be ‘part robot’ but girls just want to be ‘normal’,” he said. “Girls want a functional finger, but with the look of a normal finger. I want to do life casting by making a duplicate of another finger pigmented to match skin tone. At first glance, you wouldn’t even notice. It’d be functional, but also cosmetic. I want to take an individual’s measurements, print [the finger] out, slide it on their hand a half hour later and have it work.”
With all of that in mind, Jordan created a not-for-profit company called Robiotech Corporation and will offer cosmetic and/or functional digits for those in need, at no charge.
“With rapid prototyping, there’s not a lot of work going into it and that allows us to offer the service and product free to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it,” he said. “That’s where I’m going with it. I like to help people.”
To learn more about Jordan, his prosthetic finger and Robiotech, visit www.robiotech.net.