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The Story Behind The Robert Downey Jr Bionic Arm Video

  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • March 13, 2015 at 10:30 AM

Robert Downey Jr and a cute seven-year-old boy named Alex are the stars of one of the latest videos to go viral, which sees the Iron Man star give Alex a real bionic arm.

The video explains that Alex was born with a partially developed right arm and has been working with University of Central Florida grad student Albert Manero, whose Limbitless Solutions project saw him develop low-cost, 3D-printed bionic arms for kids around the world.

“For the last two weeks, Albert has been asking for support as part of the #CollectiveProject,” the video says. “A leading bionics expert heard his story and wanted to help.”

That “leading bionic expert” turns out to be Robert Downey Jr aka Iron Man, and the footage that follows shows him and Alex testing out a real bionic arm and even fist bumping them. It’s a touching and incredible story, well worth the attention its received.

To give some idea of the impact it has had so far: within 11 hours of posting this video to Robert Downey Jr’s Facebook page, it had over 14 million views, 500,000 likes and 400,000 shares.

But the story behind this video is just as touching. It turns out the #CollectiveProject is a Microsoft initiative that is aimed at “harnessing the power of the many to bring great ideas to life”. It supports students like Albert Manero who are making positive changes in communities all around the world.

In Manero’s case, his Limbitless Solutions project was inspired by research into the 3D printing of hands, as well as a former classmate who had a hand condition.

“My parents always encouraged me to use my education to help others and to dream big dreams. Now I want to inspire others to help engineer hope for the world,” Manero says on the OneNote Limbitless Solutions website.

Alex’s family heard about Manero’s research through international support community e-NABLE, and it wasn’t long before his mother Alyson was discussing solutions with Manero.

“When Alex’s family first contacted me about developing something for their son, I reached out to my friends and rallied a group to make this dream a reality,” Manero says.

“Our group saved our coffee money and paid for the design out of pocket. We were all bound to the belief that no one should profit from a child in need of an arm.”

Alex got the first version of his bionic arm in August 2014, but Manero and his team continued to refine the design to get it to the version we see in this video. Manero then connected with Robert Downey Jr, who was very happy to play a part in the project.

On Downey Jr’s Facebook page, he says it was an “absolute privilege” presenting the 3D-printed bionic arm to Alex, who he describes as “the most dapper 7-year-old I’ve ever met.”

“Special thanks to Albert Manero, OneNote, and #CollectiveProject for their work making artificial limbs like this more affordable for families with kids who want to show the playground how badass they are. Check out http://www.facebook.com/LimbitlessSolutions to learn more about this incredible project. #goodcause,” he writes.  

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