3D printing continues to change lives every day by making things easier, cheaper and more accessible than ever before. And one of the areas where that is truer than any of the others is prosthetic and assistive devices for the disabled. Organizations like e-NABLE continue to produce hundreds of prosthetic hands all over the world while companies like Open Bionics develop highly-functional bionic limbs that almost anyone can afford. 3D printing is simply offering people, many for the first time, the ability to connect and interact with the rest of the world in ways that the able-bodied often take for granted.
And interestingly, the advancements in 3D printed prostheses for people are making it easier for people to help disabled pets and offer them the life that they typically wouldn’t have had just a few years ago. If you ask anyone who owns a cat or a dog, or any animal companion really, they will be the first to tell you about how much better their lives are with them. Currently about three out of five people in the United States own a pet of some kind, and often they own more than one. Animal companions are simply part of who we are as a species, so it is no wonder that there are so many people willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make their pets happy and comfortable.
Last year we told you the story of Derby the Dog, a canine that was born with two front limbs that were virtually unusable. Derby was living with a foster parent provided to him by Peace and Paws Rescue after his previous family was unable to care for him due to his special needs. Naturally, a dog that is unable to run and play isn’t going to have the highest quality of life, so Derby’s story wasn’t a happy one. Until Tara Anderson, who happened to be 3D Systems’ Director of CJP Product Management, fostered him and decided to see what the company that she works for could do for him. Together Anderson and 3D Systems Freeform Product Manager, Kevin Atkins, and ABC Certified Orthotist at Animal Ortho Care, Derrick Campana, came up with a design for prosthetic limbs that would allow Derby to run and play just like any other dog.
Now, a year later Anderson and 3D Systems released a video updating us on Derby’s progress and things could not be different for him. Derby now has a forever home with his adoptive owner Sherry Portanova and his newly designed front legs have finally brought him up off the ground. Because Derby had spent his entire life essentially crawling on his front paws, the devices that were designed for him couldn’t immediately raise him up to match the the height and posture of other dogs. His back would gradually need to be strengthened and conditioned for that, and as it turns out his prosthetic legs would also need to gradually be redesigned as well. The same design that would help him stand a few inches off of the ground would simply not be suitable for a design that would help him stand a foot off the ground.
Derby’s new prosthetics were designed to give him movements similar to those of a working leg, with a flexible joint at the knee that allows him to run more naturally and finally raised him up to a natural height. But a standard desktop 3D printer could no longer be used to make his prosthetics, as a more flexible and durable material was needed. So Anderson enlisted the aid of a 3D Systems Selective Laser Sintering printer and a nylon powder material to fabricate them. Not only do the new limbs let Derby see the world the same way that other dogs do, but he can even sit the same way they do, something that he’s never been able to do before.
Here is the 3D Systems video update on Derby:
It’s hard to not see Derby run around wearing his new prosthetics and not be happy for him. And while the 3D Systems team that designed his new legs are happy with their design, naturally they are planning on continuing to develop his assistive devices and pursue new prosthetics that will offer him even more natural means of mobility. There is an old saying that all dogs are good dogs, and thanks to 3D Systems, Derby can now be the best dog that he can be. Discuss this remarkable story in the Derby The Dog forum thread on 3DPB.com.