Best Use for 3D Printing: Bionic Arms and Legs (video)

With the Paralympics and Canada Army Run coming up within the next few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about athletes wearing prosthetics. In fact, I've been looking into the topic since the men's Track and Field events, when Oscar Pistorius became the first double-leg amputee to compete in the regular Olympic games.

Prosthetics have evolved so much in even just the past 10 years. And now with 3D printing, they are becoming more agile and, dare I say, affordable. Of all the various uses of 3D printing, I think the health-related ones are my favourites. Some of them are creepy and weird (print-your-own liver, for example) but this one is completely awe-inspiring.

Take for instance the story of 2 year old Emma, who has a condition that prevents her from having enough strength to raise her arms. Which means she can't really play on her own. She's vivacious and smiley, but if you're a parent, you know that kids start trying to act independently at 2 (which is the reason for all those "No!" responses). So researchers at her hospital who'd been prototyping some prosthetic arms, tried them on her and iterated until they came up with a lightweight solution. The best part is that they can print replacement parts, or larger sizes, to accommodate her as she grows and plays. [This is a promo video for the printer manufacturer, but darned if it isn't a great piece. Get your tissues before you click.]


(Via One Cool Thing a Day)

Recently a news story surfaced about a man in China who had spent 8 years building himself bionic hands, since he couldn't afford to buy a pair. Check it out:

Credit: Daily Mail
His arms were made from steel which means they are incredibly heavy to wear. His plan is to continue working on the design and make it available for re-use. Incredible enough that he built them himself, but imagine combining this level of ingenuity with a 3D printer: a whole DIY/maker industry could result from the ability to produce prosthetics cheaply, and possibly bring cutting edge tech to lower income groups who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them.

People in their own homes could be competing with big medical firms to provide prosthetic and other medical technologies that were once (and still are) a niche market, due to the research and development costs. Can you imagine a bunch of geeks at a maker-faire/ design jam designing and printing these out? The whole idea is both out there and yet so close.

Oh, the possibilities... Isn't tech amazing?

More 3D printing goodness: