A seven-year-old Las Vegas girl will throw out the first pitch in game four of the upcoming World Series.
It's a dream come true for a young baseball fanatic on a mission to throw out balls at every Major League park. It's also a testament to the convergence of 3D printing and robotics.
Hailey Dawson was born with Poland syndrome and is missing three fingers on her right hand. Hailey's mom, Yong Dawson, began looking into robotic prosthetics when her daughter was four.
The field is advancing rapidly. Currently, there are several remarkably dextrous robotic limbs available more-or-less off-the-shelf. Many of these are controlled using myoelectric impulses that occur in muscles.
But most robotic prostheses are sized for adults. The main reason is that they're expensive, typically $20,000 or more. The already small market for pediatric prostheses shrinks markedly when you exclude families who can't afford to buy new models every couple years to accommodate growing children.
At the time, Dawson couldn't find any companies that could fit Hailey with a robotic hand for a reasonable cost. So, she turned to some clever students at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Students in the engineering department agreed to take on the project. Crucially, they had access to a high-end 3D printer, which kept material costs low while allowing for precise customization and rapid prototyping.
Over more than a year, the UNLV engineering students and faculty worked to develop a variety of robotic 3D-printed hands for then-five-year-old Hailey.
"Students and faculty members Brendan O'Toole and Mohammed Trabia worked on printing parts, assembling, painting, creating stencils, making a motorized version, and figuring out how to improve the device for Hailey," according to a UNLV spokesperson.
The result? A $5,000 robotic hand that allows Hailey to dexterously grip a ball and manipulate objects.
In 2015, the then-five-year-old threw her first ceremonial pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game. She's since thrown pitches at several MLB games.
In early September of this year, the sports site Bleacher Report tweeted a video about Dawson's quest to throw first pitches at every park. The replies came rolling in on social media.
Evidently the only two teams not to reach out to the Dawsons were the Yankees and the Blue Jays. (Ahem... start the heckling.)
Game four of the World Series airs on Fox on Oct. 28. Don't forget to tune in early to catch Hailey.