The capabilities of 3D printing have enabled many individuals to live more fulfilling lives. We have seen literally hundreds of 3D printed prosthetic hands, thanks to organizations such as E-nabling The Future, and designers are constantly striving to reach new heights in the creation of a variety of other types of prosthetic limbs. There will eventually come a time when technology converges with biology to give us all superhuman capabilities if we choose. I’m certainly not suggesting that people will be running to their surgeons in order to have their limbs amputated in favor of some new mechanical or even 3D printed device; however, those with missing limbs today may soon be more capable then typical able bodied individuals. Or is this already happening as we speak?
In the 2012 Olympics, Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete in the games. In doing so, many questioned whether this was fair, since his prosthetic legs could have been used as an advantage. Surely there will be debates in upcoming Olympic Games as well as other competitions on whether these athletes should be allowed to compete.
There are so many amazing athletic individuals who are gaining opportunities thanks to new technological advancements. One such group of athletes may soon be swimmers, at least if Della Tosin has a say in all of this. Tosin, who was born in Indonesia and currently attends the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, has been developing quite the amazing 3D printed prosthetic device. Called ‘Elle,’ her device is a prosthetic swimming leg for those who wish to compete in the pool with able bodied individuals. Tosin, a swimmer herself, realizes the capabilities needed in such a leg, and has set forth a design which can achieve all of them.
“In competitions, each participant is required to undergo three phases: launching off, swimming, and flip turning, explains Tosin. “Each phase requires a different energy release profile. Swimming requires rigorous physical exertion to maintain consistency. Elle ensures that amputees can maintain endurance by supporting their backs, hips, and thighs just like normal swimmers.”
The way the leg is created relies heavily on 3D printing for its customization. Using data taken from each individual’s body type, weight, height, and buoyancy, a custom leg is 3D printed. Once printed, a carbon fiber composite is laid on top, and the materials are hardened through baking. At this point a silicon fin is molded and attached, and a custom molded socket is also added.
The leg will provide five key areas which will benefit its users:
- Multifunction — The leg can be used for everything from the launch, to the flip at the end of a lap, to the actual swimming.
- Endurance — Features extra support to the thighs and hips, as well as a special fabric which causes less vibration and compresses the muscles of the upper leg.
- Hydrodynamics — Mimics the shape of a normal foot when it’s extended, and performs exceptionally well under water.
- Balance — Adjustable chamber which can be filled with air so that the wearer can adjust buoyancy and balance for the best comfort while swimming.
- Comfort — Pain free swimming, with a custom fit vacuum socket.
Tosin has already won a couple awards for her design, and seeks to win the James Dyson Award as well. 3D printing has enabled her to create a truly customized product, which will hopefully enable hundreds, if not thousands, of amputees the ability to exercise, compete, and just enjoy life a little bit more.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this incredible leg in the Elle, 3D Printed Swimming Leg forum thread on 3DPB.com.