Feb 11, 2016 | By Tess
LEGO toys have, for many generations of children, been the building blocks of childhood, allowing kids to create, innovate, and have fun in an infinite amount of ways. For many of us the plastic construction blocks were formative and helped us bond with our peers, whether we were building a castle, a spaceship, or an entire LEGO city. Recently, thanks to the design and hard work of Colombian designer Carlos Torres, LEGO blocks will also occupy another important role: that of helping amputee children integrate and bond with their peers.
Torres, who designed the IKO Creative Prosthetic System—an adaptable children’s arm prosthetic made up of a 3D printed socket, remote control operations, and changeable LEGO attachments—wanted to find a way to make prosthetics fun and playful for the kids they were helping. Excitingly, his project was recently awarded the Grand Prix at Netexplo, a digital technology forum that took place in Paris over the past couple days.
The recent award could help Torres find financial backers and investors to further the develop his 3D printed prosthetic. The IKO Creative Prosthetic System has been sponsored by CIREC, a Colombian nonprofit that specializes in rehabilitating people with disabilities, and the LEGO Future Lab, for which Torres used to intern. Torres estimates that once in production the adaptable children’s prosthetic could sell for $5,000, with an additional $1,000 to make new custom 3D printed sockets as the child gets bigger.
In designing the partially 3D printed, LEGO compatible arm prosthetic, Torres conducted field work in his home country of Colombia to see what an amputated child might need in a prosthetic, what they were missing from current models. What he found was that often children without disabilities were uncomfortable around or misunderstood children with amputations, so he set out to fix this dilemma.
He explains, “What if ‘normal’ kids could understand disability from a different perspective? Maybe they could empathize instead of being afraid of something they don’t know, what if they could all share, learn and create all together using play as a mean?”
Though he found it challenging to find a good balance between functionality and play for a prosthetic, he finally figured it out with the help of LEGO building blocks. He says, “My idea was not to make a traditional prosthetic, but to propose a system that was flexible enough for kids to use, hack and create with by themselves and with their friends.”
The final prototype for the prosthetic arm and hand consists of a 3D printed socket that houses a battery, processor unit and myoelectric sensors that are capable of tracking the movement of the amputated arm—this component can be charged at a specially designed docking station. The 3D printed sockets are custom made for the child in question and can be adapted and reprinted as the child grows. Connected to the socket is what Torres refers to as the “muscle” which consists of a processor unit and a Mindstorms compatible engine, it also has LEGO compatible surfaces. The prosthetic also comes with a hand attachment—also LEGO compatible—which can grip, grab, and move. Of course, the beauty of the IKO Creative Prosthetic System is that the hand can be removed and replaced with any number of LEGO creations, from a space ship, to a digging shovel, to a claw.
Torres tested his prototype on 8-year-old Dario, a young Colombian boy who lost his arm from a congenital malformation, and the results are amazing. Check out the video below to see how Dario and his friends create and play with his new 3D printed LEGO prosthetic.
As Torres acutely states, “This Prosthetic system steps aside from what a traditional prosthetic is…The main concept of this project is to build and enrich the kid’s self-esteem through a learning, creative and social inclusive experience.” As the project gains recognition through prizes and positive acclaim, we can hope that children who have felt ostracized or isolated because of their deformities will soon stand proud and in good company as they turn their afflictions into social and positive fun.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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