3D-Printed Prosthetics Are Everywhere
Chances are, by now you’ve come across an article or three about how 3D printing is allowing for major advancements and disruption in the prosthetics industry. From custom bone replacements to artistically and intricately designed legs we’re having near-daily updates on how prosthetic limbs are becoming cheaper, better, and more available. And a lot of this is due to the fact that 3d printing is a widely open-source community and hobby, allowing for constant prototyping and finessing of designs. It doesn’t’ matter if the designs are for a purely mechanical hand replacement or an elegant, robotic limb—what used to take years per limb revision, or tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per upgrade—can be done in a matter of hours and a fraction of the price (most 3D prosthetics are clocking in at 1/10th the price of their big-company predecessors.)
The golden child of the 3D prosthetics world right now is most certainly the OpenHand Project of OpenBionics. Having recently won the prestigious James Dyson Award as well as several handfuls of others, the OpenBionics Dextrus design is utilizing 3D printing, separate motors for each finger, and 3D scanning to create personalized, unparalleled prosthetics.
Exiii, a robotics group out of Japan, has also created a robotic, 3D printed hand called the Hackberry. Run on an arduino board and digital camera battery, the hand uses the tensing and releasing of muscles somewhere on your body, likely the forearm, read by an infrared sensor to control the grip of the hand. With material costs at about $300, the team hopes to make prosthetics not only easier to acquire, but also to have a positive impact on the self image of disabled people. Future additions to the arm include an NFC (near field communication) chip programmable for easy payment or slick door unlocking.
As mentioned, one of the great advancements of using 3D printing for replacement limbs is that it cuts down on the design and creation cycle for each unit. There isn’t a $10,000 price tag each time you need an adjustment, and any revisions can be done at really any time. Decide the limb is too small? Adjust the file and reprint. Want a cooler design? Dream it up and, you guessed it, reprint. Industrial Design student William Root, creator of the Exo prosthetic leg, has a great example of how the lifecycle is cut down and more manageable. No longer waiting on physical prototypes or recasting, changing or refitting of a design can be as easy as scanning the limb or editing the file.
Perhaps one of the most heartwarming and impactful groups involved with 3D printed prosthetics is e-NABLE. e-NABLE is a collection of engineers, hobbyists, and philanthropists that are donating their time, expertise, money, and machines to print and create 3D prosthetic hands for kids who are without. Each one takes several days and under $40 in supplies alone (not counting time for assembly), giving a child a multitude of abilities they previously had to live without. The e-NABLE designs use ABS or PLA plastics, as well as rubber bands for tendons, allowing for opening and closing of the hand without electronics or batteries. This makes it an ideal limb as the devices don’t need charging, can get as dirty as a kid can, and are much cheaper to replace every 6 months or so as the kid grows up, something insurance companies have disputed in the past.
Find this interesting? Wish you could help? Well you can. e-Nable is hosting a Hand-A-Thon on the expo floor during BodyHacking Convention, aiming to make 100 hands in just 2 days. Be sure to stop by to help by putting together a hand which will be send to a kid in need.