Dec 9, 2015 | By Andre

The customization of prosthetic limbs in 3D printing is fast becoming a common theme when the story of the technology's potential is explored. The idea is simple in that every human is shaped slightly different from the other so corresponding replacement limbs are necessary as a result. Up until recently, creating custom prosthetics has been possible but at the same time prohibitively expensive for much of the world while the one-size fits all approach isn't overly practical or even properly effective.

To me, a technological emphasis on custom low-cost prosthetics is invaluable to the developed world, but even more so in some of the developing countries that have had to deal with the every day reality of discarded landmines and long-forgotten rocket shells scattered across the countryside.

So when I hear of young innovative individuals like 24 year old Maryland resident Sean Walker working on bringing about custom limbs using low-cost 3D printing methods I am hopeful that the cost of customization will soon reach those lacking the resources otherwise necessary to procure the help they so badly need.

For him, it all started after stumbling onto November's Independence / Jefferson Health Hack while exploring some local Eventbrite offerings. The event, promoted as a healthcare hackathon “that thrives on collisions between different worlds, experiences, and cultures" and "centered around bringing individuals together who may not interact otherwise to dream up scalable solutions to the most pressing issues in healthcare.” Once discovering the event, he knew he had something to offer and went ahead and signed up.

Sean’s idea for the wearables portion of the event was to build a limb that would empower amputees to build their own adjustable prosthetic limbs. What set his idea apart from others that have played with custom printable limbs in the past is his analogy to that of a car. The frame, suspension and tires all play different roles in how a car functions. He went on to say that “a Ferrari’s no good if the interior feels like sitting on a nail bed.” Ultimately the idea is to be able to break down individual components so you don’t need to be “carrying around 15 legs,” as he puts it.

It wasn’t a cake walk for him to start however. The judges were originally skeptical of his abilities due to his outward appearance and tardiness during the hackathon. Though, it wasn't long before they were won over by what he had on offer. And digging a little deeper, looks can definitely be deceiving. Sean has a practical background in both prosthetics and physical therapy. He even suggested his experience as a lacross-stick maker helped him figure out how to reduce leg stress while designing his custom limb.

He used an early Printrbot Simple to produce the prototype limb that was used for the hackathon. “It’s all 3D-printing plastic. Nothing strong or fancy.” he declared of his creation.

Regardless of his modesty, he was soon the winner of $5,000, access to otherwise costly Microsoft services, a three-month membership to makerspace NextFab and a spot at a prominent health professionals incubator.

His casual nature to things revealed itself yet again when he suggested that he wants to take therapy equipment “and make it more fun.” And why not? But through his modest, casual yet still commited approach, I suggest what he’s doing is also important in the big picture sort of way. He’s contributing to something important for so many in need, and 3D printing is fast becoming the perfect tool to do so.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Sean Walker wrote at 12/9/2015 7:21:17 PM:

Hey thanks for the story if you want some more info on my background send me an email

Don wrote at 12/9/2015 1:42:44 PM:

When did "outward appearance" ever matter at a hackathon? That's a ridiculous and irrelevant comment.

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