Nov.20, 2014 | By Alec

Many children are being born without part of their hands or arms every year; it happens to approximately one in 2000 children in the U.S. And there are of course many others who lose a limb or a part of a limb in an accident or in a medical complication. And while we've said it before in the past, we'll say it again: 3D printing technology has so far proven to be a wonderful manufacturing tool for these children and all the adults they grow up to be.

As many of you will have heard, there are numerous 3D printing projects out there aiming to produce (or already producing) affordable, custom-fitted prosthetics for these people, replacing the need to spend thousands on badly-fitting, quickly-outgrown traditional alternatives. As ever, E-NABLE deserves to be mentioned.

But then there are some children who do things a bit differently, like the nine-year-old Aidan Robinson. His lower left arm has been missing since birth, and he has seen his fair share of traditional prosthetic arms throughout his short life. Recently, however, Aidan took the 3D printing route himself, designing a custom prosthetic that allows him to perform crucial tasks, like controlling the Wii.

Throughout his life, Aidan had been wearing regular prosthetics. He wore something that can be compared to a doll's arm since birth, to allow his brain to develop motor skills for both sides of his body. Over the years, this has been replaced by other functional prosthetics as well, like a myoelectric prosthetics (that rely on electrodes to respond to muscle movements). But, like most prosthetics, these were very expensive; the cheapest child-sized one being somewhere around $5500, but quickly jumping up to figures like $15000. And typically, they left much to be desired. There's a reason why myoelectric arms are also known as cookie crushers, as kids can easily crush things unintentionally.

Last July, however, Aidan went to the one-week Superhero Cyborg Camp, which is every bit as important as it sounds. Basically, it's a workshop for children, run by the San Francisco non-profit organisation KIDmob, who've lost (parts of) their upper limbs. With nine other students, Aidan spent the week learning to the basics of designing a unique prosthetics that comes with superpowers.

With the help of the volunteers and experienced prosthetists, Aidan assembled his unique prosthetic, that includes various parts of old toys, metal components and 3D printed parts. The result? A prosthetic that can be fitted with various objects like forks and spoons, a giant Lego hand and even a Wii remote. While not as flashy as a medical prosthetic, Aidan's creation is definitely more fun and more practical.

Such skills, ingenuity, experience and fun are exactly the'21st Century Skills' that KIDmob is trying to pass to these children in need, and Aidan's hand is a perfect example. As KIDmob co-founder Kate Ganim explained, 'Part of our intent [behind the Superhero Cyborg Camp] was to invite them to consider the possibility that they're not just limited to the prosthetic set on the market. As the end user of the prosthetics, if they have an idea that's not on the market, they could make it themselves.'

Of course, a week and a child's attention span aren't long enough to build an entire prosthetic, so most kids went home with a cool-looking, but decorative device. Luckily, Coby Unger, a designer at Autodesk, was so impressed by Aidan's design, that he offered to make a working version of the arm. As Unger explained, 'I thought it was a unique perspective on prosthetics I hadn't seen before. And it had great potential for changing what prosthetic means and what it could mean.'

Unger began working on a 3D printed working version of Aidan's designs, streamlining the basic Wii remote and cutlery concepts. For good measure, he even through in an attachment that allows Aidan to play the violin in his school orchestra, and even play with a super soaker.

All in all, it's starting to look like Aidan might own one of the most multifunctional 3D printed prosthetics in the world. As Unger said, 'There's no reason it has to be a semi-functional hand or hook when you could attach something you want on there and it's something that's fun.'

Initiatives like this illustrate exactly what 3D printing is all about. It's for all ages, and aims to be practical, innovative as well as fun! Combining that with the efforts of KIDmob, really lets kids be kids, even those with disabilities. If you'd like to know more about KIDmob and their prosthetic workshops, or even volunteer at one, be sure to visit their website.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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evan wrote at 11/24/2014 6:55:44 PM:

I feel so sad and would die if i had one arm.

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