3D printing technology has spawned numerous innovations, and one of the most beneficial for individuals with disabilities, is iwithn the prosthetic limbs field. This is especially true of those which are currently being designed and manufactured for children-- particularly when kids are able to be involved in the design process.
In January of this year, six children had the opportunity to travel to an event in San Francisco called “Superhero Cyborgs”, a Pier 9 Workshop venture sponsored by KIDMob. They worked beside professional engineers and designers from 3D design and engineering firm Autodesk, to create prototypes of their own prosthetic designs which they could then wear. They were invited to apply for this project earlier this year, being informed that it was (at least on this occasion) an educational experience for children.
Participants in the program learn about digital fabrication and 3D modelling, such as 3D printing, and there is the opportunity to be partnered with a professional engineer/designer to collaborate further and develop their projects further following the workshop.
The point of the workshop, however, was not to design just any old prosthetics. This was a superhero workshop, so the children designed prosthetics with various attachments, such as “water cannon” designs, nerf guns, glitter guns, and more.
As you can imagine, the kids, who ranged from ten to fifteen years old, all had a great time. They were encouraged to learn about the prosthetics process and had plaster casts taken of their limbs, so that they could gain more understanding of the modelling involved in replacement prosthetics. Clearly, these superhero implements are not for everyday use, (only when the world is in extreme peril will we need to call on them!), but the initiative goes a long way to make children comfortable with the idea of wearing prosthetics by making them fun. In addition to learning about the manufacturing process, it also helps kids to come to terms with the fact that they will go on to use a number of artificial limbs over the years because their bodies are growing and changing.
At the time of this writing, 3D printing technology is not generally available in most households, but as the price of printers drops and the cost of materials and methods for 3D printing also become less expensive and more durable, this type of development for children with mobility issues could become much more accessible. While it can be a challenge to convince children to wear prosthetics while feeling confident and proud of them, 3D printing can not only help to empower children, but also possibly inspire a new generation of designers and engineers.
Picture courtesy of www.care2.com