When prosthetic limbs first came to the fore, they looked like something straight out of science-fiction movies. But these days, the frontiers of technology have been pushed so far by the imaginative designers and inventors that it has lost its alliance with the science-fiction. With the help of the constantly developing technology, we have arrived at a stage where it is possible for the average people, who have lost their limbs, to regain their previous dexterity. The godsend rapid prototyping technology has now opened a new door to less expensive and quicker 3D printed limbs for the people who are physically unique.
A prosthetic that has been made commercially, costs around $5,000 to a whopping $50,000. If we take a closer look on the financial side of a family with a member in need, we can understand the situation better. The average lifespan of a 3D printed prosthetic is 5 years; while adults can have a prosthetic limb for as long as it is not rickety, the growth of a child means that frequent replacements are necessary, which will put extra strain on the parents’ financial abilities. This paints a picture with perfect clarity, of the inaccessibility of the huge number of people who lost their dexterity, and now with such a price tag, getting a prosthetic is almost like a luxury.
However, rapid prototyping has now made prosthetics widely accessible for the regular people. With 3D printers now available at prices as low as $200, the likelihood of one printing his own limb is no longer a fantasy. Organizations like the Enable Community Foundation has made 3D printers available for the average people so that they can fashion and create prosthetics according to their needs, and that too only for $50!
In recent news, Open Bionics has collaborated with Disney to produce an exciting line of Disney-themed fully functional android limbs. Open Bionics develops sophisticated, customized prosthetic hands that are priced 100 times less than the most exclusive ones. Other than meeting the practical needs, these hands also bear razzle-dazzles such as flashy lights and other effects as a way of providing the owner with excitement and lower any feeling of embarrassment or limitation. This line of Disney-based range, features Iron Man Hand, the Light Saber Hand and the Frozen Snowflake Hand to choose from.
Innovators have remained true to their names and have not rested their laurels yet. They are still on the move to revolutionize the process of rapid prototyping prosthetics. MIT avant-gardist Hugh Herr has introduced new abilities, such as propulsion systems, integrated sensors, and sophisticated algorithms, which work together and paves the way for more natural joint movements. An evolution of predictive movement is underway, which will make controlling the prosthetics easier. Altogether, the day is not too far when prosthetics would mimic natural movements.
In fact, after its small-scale success on brain-powered prosthetics, Iceland-based company Ossur is already looking forward to a large-scale trial. The brain-powered prosthetics work by setting up a link between the thoughts and the android limb through the myoelectric sensors that have been implanted. According to Ossur, the technology it uses only requires a small 15-minute operation, after which the patients would be able to control their limbs, and the lag between the impulse and the action would be beyond the patient’s grasp. In addition to that, the sensors implanted do not need any external source of power and require no intervallic replacements.
In addition to all the convenient features of prosthetic limbs created through rapid prototyping, another great side is that they are easily customizable and can be made according to the physique and requirements of the owner. There are a lot of times when specialty designs, that are artistic and sturdy, have been made to suit a particular purpose, even for adventurous sports like biking. As of fresh development, 3D modeling and body scanning technologies from Body Labs now allows people to scan their limbs and have tailor-made prosthetics based on individual weight, gait, and the level of activity.
However, most of the printers used today support only a single type of material- plastic, metal, ceramic or wood. In order to meet the wide range of customer demands and specifications, 3D printers are now required to support more than one type of material. Advancements, such as combining metal and plastic together in a single print circle is what designers and innovators are working on. And it must also be noted that this technology is heading towards success fast. 3D printers are quickly gaining compatibility as more and more new materials which offer durability and strength, like titanium, is used.
The gradual development and the growing popularity of the rapid prototyping technology has made innovative endeavors, such as 3D printed limbs, possible. It has provided a feasible solution for the huge number of people who have been living with a limb loss. Though this revolution still has a long way to go, that day is not far when printing a bespoke prosthetic limb will be as simple and convenient as pressing the ‘print’ button on a computer screen.
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