Dec 6, 2016 | By Benedict

A student from Malta is designing an ultra-functional 3D printed prosthetic arm that can monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels. The myoelectric prosthesis would enable its user to perform a range of actions through muscle movement, and would be 3D printed with embedded electronics.

Jason Micallef is designing a 3D printable prosthetic arm

With 3D printing being used more and more to create affordable, well-fitting 3D printed prostheses for amputees and limb-different people, developers of such devices are now finding new ways to make them as practical and as effective as possible. Whether it’s a 3D printed arm controlled by the wearer’s mind or a simple e-NABLE 3D printed hand for kids, 3D printing has vastly increased the range of affordable prosthetics on the market.

Some of the most exciting developments in 3D printed prosthetics are being made by popular organizations like e-NABLE and “superhero prosthesis” specialist Open Bionics, yet equally important developments are also being made by individuals. Jason Micallef, a 20-year-old Master’s student with a focus on artificial intelligence, is currently in the process of designing a 3D printable prosthetic arm that will pack a host of useful onboard features, making the artificial limb more of an enhancement than a handicap.

To create his 3D printed prosthetic arm, Micallef is designing a model that could be 3D printed with embedded electronic components that connect to the user’s muscles. By designing the prosthetic device in this way, the student would be able to make the arm “myoelectric”: able to be controlled by electric signals generated by the user’s muscles.

“Myoelectric prostheses have gone from simply being able to grasp things to now picking up something as fragile as an egg without breaking it,” Micallef told The Sunday Times of Malta. “What I’m working on will hopefully take this a step further and users will not only be equipped with an arm but one that would be even better than their own.”

In addition to being easy to control, Micallef’s 3D printed arm would also be equipped with several extra features that would transform the device into an all-in-one prosthetic arm and smartwatch. Micallef hopes that these extra digital features, which would enable to the wearer to keep tabs on their overall wellbeing, could make his 3D printed prosthesis a success—both in his current academic pursuits, and eventually commercially.

3D printed hands made by e-NABLE volunteers

“I am using a standard model that is easily accessible online but I am reworking the design in such a way that would allow me to also include health monitoring systems,” Micallef said. “The arm would therefore be able to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, and the user’s overall general health.”

By 3D printing the prosthetic device in ABS, Micallef believes he could keep the cost of the arm as low as possible while maintaining its strength in core areas. Because of this, the student believes he could market his device at children, who frequently need larger and larger prostheses as their bodies grow.

“With 3D printing you can rapidly and very cheaply deploy the final design and within a few weeks the amputee could have a new prosthesis,” Micallef explained. “In this way, we could also make the design fun. Children could have theirs custom-made, which could help with the stigma, especially if children are shy, for instance.”

Although great work is already being done in the area of 3D printed prostheses, Micallef’s plan to integrate useful gadgets into his design could make his new artificial arm a valuable contribution to the field.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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