It seems that recent advances in technology, such as 3D printing, have allowed easier access to designers into the world of prosthetic design.
The result? A much quicker advancement of development of new types of prostheses. Where once, expensive, time intensive hand made prostheses required large budgets and time to create, designers can now design and test a prosthesis in a much quicker and inexpensive manner, before creating the final product.
That is yielding some pretty interesting designs. Where once, functionality was the primary and / or the sole goal of a prosthetic limb design, new designs are coming quickly that also focus on affordability, aesthetics, and even fun.
We ran a story last October, in which a family who was unable to afford a regular prosthetic arm (nearly $40,000), was able to 3D print a a basic prosthesis for for their 5-year-old son, for less than $100. Click here for that story.
We also ran a story about a designer who developed at prosthetic arm specifically to help a person play guitar – complete with the user’s favorite band integrated into the design. Click here for that story.
The latest trend? LEGOs!
Chicago based designer Carlos Arturo Torres, developed the prosthetic arm with kids between the ages of 3-12 years old, in mind. Referred to as the IKO, the prosthetic arm is a fully fully functional myolectric prosthetic arm, that allows the user to control the prosthetic with a series of sensors that attach to the users body.
In an interview with Wired, Torres stated, “My friends in psychology used to tell me that when a kid has a disability, he is not really aware of it until he faces society,” Torres says. “That’s when they have a super rough encounter.”
So Torres set out to build a different prosthesis. One where the four-fingered prosthetic hand can be removed and replaced by whatever the user can imagine and then build with LEGOs.
Sponsored by LEGO’s secretive research and design team, Future Lab, and CIREC, a rehabilitation clinic in Columbia, Torres was able to interact with kids, giving him insight as he developed IKO.
Torres states, “Using the LEGO system was part of this solution, not just because of its creative content, but most of it its social feature; this is a toy that gathers people around with a single goal: the pride of creation, but in this scenario I found that it transcends to a higher level. When I was testing the prototype I planned two different sessions, one that was hard to achieve and forced the kid to use his family and people nearby to finish, and a second one easy enough to involve a normal kid and get a glimpse the social dynamics that the system could create.”
The project was entered into 2015 Core77 Design Awards competition – where according to his Core77 Design Awards project page, “The project proposes a new mindset from what current prosthetics are. Missing a limb shouldn’t be a disability for a kid when you have the opportunity to explore and augment their potential by creating, playing and learning.”
“The needs of a kid in disability are not always related to physical activity but often alternatively the social and psychological aspect; sometimes a functional element is everything they need, but some other times it might be a spaceship, or a doll house, or a telescope, or a video game controller, or a swim fin…”
“What if kids could use their imagination to create their own prosthetics, their own tools according to their own needs? Learning. Creating. Being kids.”
Torres was awarded Open Design Student Winner in the competition.
Torres hopes the LEGO is just the start and that other companies that design for kids, will get into the mix as well. “…imagine having MARVEL developing superhero modules, MATTEL making doll houses or car launchers, GE producing microscopes, NINTENDO having compatible accessories, and everything at its normal accessible price.”
Product images and video from IKO Creative Prosthetic System Core77 Design Awards webpage.
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