3D Printable Prosthetics are Quickly Becoming a (Very Cool) Thing
Traditionally, if you lost a limb, you’d be fitted for a high-priced prosthetic with a wax or silicone covering that sometimes looked like real skin and sometimes just looked odd. But, with the advent of 3D printing, more and more companies have begun to print prosthetics. And, while this technology was initially used in war-zones to help children and refugees, it’s quickly being adopted by the west. More importantly, with online availability, it allows anyone with a 3D printer to create their own prosthetics using freely shared designs. And, while some prosthetics are ‘normal’, others push the boundaries of what we think of when we think prosthetic limbs.
Free Designs Mean Anyone Can Print
While 3D limbs must be carefully fitted to their wearers, 3D print allows anyone to quickly modify a basic design and fit it to their own body. This enables anyone with a 3D printer or access to a rentable one to quickly make their own prosthetics, allowing them to either skip the high costs of a hospital or treat prosthetics like fashion items.
3D printable prosthetics are hitting community commons, and many of them are already available for download for free. And, with tools like the DigiScan3D (For iPad) anyone can scan shapes and import them into CAD to create custom fitted prosthetics for their own use.
3D Printed Prosthetics Save Lives
While the west is largely able to explore the creative aspects of 3D printed prosthetics, this same technology is saving lives in African countries like Sudan. The World Health Organization estimates that over 30 million people need prosthetic limbs to handle basic activities like walking long distances to get water, and 3D printers make this possible for many more. Projects like Cyborg Beast and Project Daniel work to provide 3D printed prosthetics for free or low-cost, primarily to children who are victims of war and accidents. With some costing under $40 to manufacture, 3D printing makes it more possible to develop prosthetics on a larger scale to provide low-income people with the prosthetics they need to survive.
Prosthetics as Art Pieces
While some of these 3D printed prosthetics are highly functional, most function as art pieces, combining prosthetics with pop media and culture. For example, there are many Iron Man inspired 3D printable prosthetics available for kids. But, some designs also take it a step further, combining the two.
De Oliveira Barata fronts this trend with the Alternative Limbs Project, where she focuses on creating individual limbs for users. In 2015, she worked to create a Metal Gear Solid inspired arm for a man who lost his leg and his arm after falling under a train. She’s also not the only one.
Video game company Square Enix is teaming up with Open Bionics (Prosthetic company) and Intel and Razor to produce two Dues Ex Machina inspired prosthetic arms based on Adam Jenson and the Dues Ex Universe Arm. These arms are 3D printable, and will include flexing fingers and a rotating wrist to help wearers get as much as possible from them. Their design, which is set to be released to the public in 2018, will be in community commons and open for anyone to use themselves.
While 3D printing won’t replace prosthetists anytime soon, it does make open source, 3D printable prosthetics available to anyone who needs or wants one. And, with nearly unlimited design possibilities, it enables everyone to create their own personal designs, to wear prosthetics as a fashion statement, and to create something unique. If you want to see what’s happening, you can visit projects like enablingthefuture.org and 3dprint.com to see downloadables that you can print now.