Interview with Peregrine Hawthorn
By Adam Kitz
This week I got a chance to interview one of our top beta testers, Peregrine Hawthorn, who has been with e-NABLE for almost two and a half years and has collaborated on many of the designs. Most notable is his work with the Talon hand that he originally designed with his father, Peter Blinkley.
Peregrine was born without fingers on his left hand and the Talon was designed around his needs and for the purpose of his daily use. It does require a little bit more wrist movement than other e-NABLE designs, but the Talon is also more durable than the others. This is due largely in part to Peregrine’s daily testing and his work towards making a hand that can keep up with him. I wanted to find out who he is, what the process has been like developing hands with his father, and what he has planned for the future.
Adam: To start, tell me a little about yourself. Are you going to school? Where do you work?
Peregrine: Right now, I’m working at Prop Gallery Events. It’s a small company that does event setup and decor for things like weddings and casino events. It’s a good balance of artistic and manual labor, so I keep active, and can have a bit of fun while I do it.
I’m not going to school right now, but I’m planning on moving out to Rochester to go to Monroe Community College. I’m planning on going through that into the Biomedical Engineering program at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology).
Adam: That sounds like a pretty solid job, there is something nice about a good manual labor job. One of my questions was “do you consider yourself an artist or an engineer?”, but it sounds like you consider yourself both.
Peregrine: I’d consider myself a creator. The difference between art and engineering really comes down to a choice between function and beauty, and if you take a look at my Talon, you’ll see that that’s not a choice I like to make. Especially for something you wear and use every day, if you have one without the other, it’s bound to fail.
Adam: What was the extent of your involvement with the Talon?
Peregrine: Truth be told, the Talon was designed around me. I use it every day, and I have regular brainstorm sessions with Peter Binkley, my father and mechanic. We work out solutions to problems I’m having, and we (mostly he) create the new parts.
I’m getting better at the 3D modeling required, but no one can hold a candle to my father when it comes to mesh 3D modeling.
Adam: I love the design of the Talon, it looks like it is meant to take a beating and is built to last. The leather gauntlet looks awesome. What makes the talon hand more durable than the others?
Peregrine: Thanks. My first problem was that I kept breaking parts, so we spent a lot of effort making it strong enough to keep up with me. It means bulkier fingers, but I don’t have to replace them every week. Some parts have to be printed in inconvenient directions so the layering works to my advantage and is less likely to split parts. The leather bracer also helps a lot. It’s very hard to print a bracer shape that can hold up to any sort of impact, so the tough but flexible leather really helps take some of the strain off the plastic.
Adam: How often were you having to replace fingers before you began making changes? How many variations of the talon have you worked on?
Peregrine: In the first five weeks, before we made any modifications to the files, I went through six fingers. That’s a little over one a week. We’ve been relatively bad at marking particular “versions” but the Talon has gone through many different iterations.
The first one was really just a Snap-Together Robohand we downloaded off Thingiverse and hacked together. Literally, there were hacksaws involved. The only differences were an hourglass shape for a better fit, nylon monofilament cables (that became important later on) and the introduction of leather instead of orthoplastic. We modded the fingers and knuckle hinges a bit, but that’s mostly it for that iteration. I couldn’t really do much with that one.
Next we fused a lot of the parts in it to strengthen parts and simplify printing. This upgrade was pretty substantial, as the larger finger joints carried far more of my strength and I accidentally dented a soda drink can shortly after starting to use it.
This current iteration, we’ve expanded on the nylon monofilament to do away with the elastics in favor of cables that can both pull fingers shut and push them open. The fingers are bulked up further, and the cables now have a reinforced anchor and guide to allow for better Bowden properties (Think bike breaks. The cables are flexible enough to go around corners when pulled, but stiff enough not to buckle when pushed).
I like how the thick nylon cables look, but that’s not the only reason I use them. You need something like that to avoid buckling when you push on it. That push cable lets me get rid of the elastics. Previously, we had the one set of cables to pull the fingers closed, and another, elastics, to pull them open. The problem being that when my fingers are closed, I’m working against five elastics to keep them there. It would become tiring to wear.
Adam: I saw the video where you used the hand to lift a 13 pound weight. Have you tried to lift anything greater since then?
Peregrine: I haven’t tried to lift more weight that direction in a while, though I think I probably could now. The last time I broke anything, I was lifting aluminum trusses that averaged around 70 lbs but that was just on the frame, not the fingers.
For heavy things most would struggle to lift, it’s easier to rest it on the corner of the knuckle, where the weight gets distributed along my whole arm, rather than trying to make the fingers do that.
Adam: How long have you guys been working on the Talon? and when did e-Nable get involved?
Peregrine: It’s been… oh gosh. Two and a half years now? I’d need to look back at the dates to be sure, but we joined e-Nable maybe three months after we made our first hand.
Adam: How has e-Nable helped in developing the talon? and are you working on anything else with them?
Peregrine: For starters, e-Nable is a fantastic supportive community, and a real pleasure to work with. On a more practical sense, the fingers and grips I’m currently using came out of the group, and I’m really excited to start using thermoformed parts in my bracer that people are prototyping. Parts that print flat, but are heated and bent into shape. Some of these have looked like they rivaled fiber glass in durability,
I’ve also helped develop the Raptor, our current work horse hand, and I often talk to developers about the ins and outs of these devices as someone who uses them. It’s hard to test things like comfort and usability if you have all five fingers.
Adam: That is one of the really cool things about e-Nable. People from all over the world are working together in an online workspace to do amazing things. I am excited to see what you do with thermoformed gauntlet and how that affects your design. Thinking back to the beginning of our interview, are you going into Biomedical Engineering to continue developing and testing hands or do you have other ambitions for your degree?
Peregrine: What I plan to do with my degree, is to further a philosophy that I’ve picked up, both from working with e-Nable, and my circle of friends.
Everyone should have the right to become whatever they feel they should be.
This can mean a lot of things, but with this, I hope to develop things that allow people to do things they feel they should be able to do, whether that’s eating what you want without worrying about your blood-sugar, or being able to walk across the room without help, I want to empower people to do that through human upgrades.
It sounds like science fiction, but I have a machine on my desk that can make a hand, and another one that can make pizza appear at my front door. An implant that can regulate a few hormones doesn’t sound so far fetched now, does it?
It doesn’t sound too far fetched at all and one day we will open up the paper and see the headline, “Peregrine Hawthorn finds a solution for…” Until then, we will be keeping our eyes open in the e-NABLE community for the first thermoformed Talon.