Aug 3, 2015 | By Alec

Once you think about it, 3D printing technology becomes perfect for making custom (cool) casts that suit a specific fracture of a specific person – and we’ve already seen a number of cool examples, like this 3D printed cast. However, that wasn’t enough for inventor Mike North, who recently broke his leg. In a quest for multi-functionality and freedom, he teamed up with 3D printing experts FATHOM and developed and 3D printed an actually adjustable ‘smart cast’ embedded with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options.

If the name Mike North sounds familiar, that’s probably because you might know him from the Science Channel's "Outrageous Acts of Science" or his "In The Making" series on YouTube. The energetic and active inventor (who travels very frequently) recently broke his fibula and was immediately confronted with the limitations of casts. Patients are presented with only two options: you can either be fitted with a durable walking cast (like most people are), but then you won’t be allowed to travel on planes due to swelling caused by pressure. Then there’s option number two: a cast that has been cut in two and can be adjusted for swelling, but that is not solid enough to enable walking.

Most of us would just go with one of the two options, but Mike North developed a third. He contacted the Oakland-based 3D printing experts FATHOM, who are specialized in high quality, high speed design iteration and prototype fabrication. Just recently, we’ve seen a number of fascinating 3D printing projects leave their studio, including the Coolest Cooler and the Pyra smart oven. Together, they asked themselves the question: "how can we take breaking a leg and turn it into a positive experience for a person?"

During a few days of iterating, they developed a very interesting concept: the BoomCast. Based on a scan of the inventor’s own leg, the BoomCast is a custom-fitting cast that can be adjusted to enable air travel while still being strong enough to bear weight. To do so, a couple of ratchet straps have been added that can be easily operated. The straps as well as the cast have been 3D printed in Nylon 12 to ensure impact strength and durability(using a Fortus 900c 3D Printer), while the sole of the cast was done in PolyJet multi-materials – for a comfortable fit.

While that alone is already impressive, the name rightly suggests that there’s more to this project. North and the FATHOM crew further equipped this cool cast with a wide range of sensors, lights and speakers. These are used to gather data on the healing process, while also giving the patient a cool speaker that can be operated through Bluetooth.

Key in this cast is the Intel Edison chipset with plenty of computational power, as well as a Lithium-ion battery to power everything. Incorporated into this smart cast are a gyroscope, an accelerometer, a magnetometer and a few integrated pressure sensors. These can be used to collect data on movement and swelling, feeding this to Google's Firebase in real-time where doctors and patient can monitor progress. The stereo itself is also fantastic, and perfect for adding a bit of fun to those hours spent on the sofa, waiting for everything to heal.  ‘It feels good on your leg, and it also just brings up your spirit and your mood,’ says North of the cool cast.

The result is a cast that is superior to traditional casts in a number of ways. Its lightweight, more comfortable, very durable, and travel-friendly and adjustable. Even without the incorporated boombox, this is a perfect example of what 3D printing can do for a patient’s wellbeing. However, don’t expect to see this BoomCast any time soon – there are no plans for turning this into a consumer product. The designs have, however, been released as open-source files that can be found on the FATHOM website, so you can always help yourself.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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