Nov 22, 2016 | By Tess

As we’ve seen through organizations such as Open Bionics and e-NABLE, 3D printing is helping to make upper limb prosthetics, especially for children, more accessible than ever. Through innovative open source designs created by makers all over the globe, people in remote areas or with limited means now have the ability to access their own assistive devices, such as prosthetic hands, simply by having access to a 3D printer. Po, a Paraguay-based company, is hoping to make a difference on this front by offering customized 3D printed upper-limb prosthetics to local people in need.

According to Po co-founder Eric Dijkhuis, because of a lack of work safety regulations, a high number of people in Paraguay suffer injuries, many of which require amputations. That reality, combined with relatively low incomes, means that many people do not receive the restorative care they need after injuries, and less than 3% of those in need receive suitable prostheses.

Po, in seeing the potential of 3D printing to help solve this problem, set to work creating a functional, durable, customizable, and 3D printable prosthetic hand and lower arm that could be made widely accessible to Paraguayans in need. The first working version of the prosthetic, which is currently being used by over one hundred people in Paraguay, is based on a mechanical control system with relatively limited functions. Now, however, Po is working on devising a new and improved version of the prosthesis that can be controlled with a Myo device.

Myo, for those unfamiliar with the device, is worn on a user’s arm, and can translate muscle movements into bioelectric signals which are in turn translated into different types of motion and communicated wirelessly to other devices. Developed by Thalmic Labs, the Myo basically allows small movements, such as tilting your hand or wrist, to control other devices. In terms of prosthetic limbs, this means that by simply rotating your wrist or making another similar movement, the Myo can instruct the prosthetic hand and fingers to follow accordingly, making it grab, grasp, pinch, etc.

Currently, Po has five people testing out the MyPo, the new prosthetic arm that incorporates the Myo device. As Dijkhuis explains, “At a fraction of the cost, MyPo mirrors the traditional functionality of a prosthetic hand, including several grips, degrees of freedom, and it can even integrate applications that already exist with the Myo armband.” The latter refers to possible interactions with such things as social media and various mobile or computer apps.

As mentioned, Po’s prosthetic arm device is all open-source, and the 3D printing files for it are readily available through the company's Thingiverse page. As part of its mandate, Po has helped to bring the device to people in need within Paraguay largely through private donors and sponsors. According to the company, users are asked to pay a “figurative amount that they can afford” and the rest is covered by Po.

The funding, as Dijkhuis explains, comes mainly from private donations, but also through independent professionals, NGOs, allied businesses, and public organizations. “Our model is currently being replicated in North Argentina and South Brazil by Po partners, but our entire workflow is going to be open so anyone can start their own chapter with standardized, ready-to-go procedures,” he explained.

Po is not the only startup exploring the potentials of the Myo for innovative and accessible prosthetic limbs, as a team of German researchers has also been using the concept for a 3D printed wristband that turns prosthetics into easy-to-use digital computer mice.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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