The world of 3D printing is exhilarating with inspiration on so many different levels. Its innovations have touched the lives of so many humans, in some cases very much improving their quality of life — or even saving their lives altogether. There’s always a double dose of wonderment when it comes to the stories about kids though.
In the case of Aidan Robinson, he had some ideas on exactly what he’d like in a prosthesis, and he was very lucky to team up with Coby Unger, who realized the potential of making a multi-faceted 3D printed prosthesis that would center around a 3D printed socket allowing for a number of attachments, not unlike a Swiss Army knife. Together, they were to make a prosthesis that would not only perform for Aidan, but one that would be able to be reshaped and re-formed for him with childhood growth.
For kids, the prosthesis is difficult not only because it’s challenging quite simply to lose or be born without a limb and try to find something to replace that, but also because they have the added challenges of being young and having to sit through the traditionally arduous process of being fitted with very expensive prostheses — only to have outgrown them before they even arrive or soon after.
Designer and maker Colby Unger was duly impressed in his experience with nine-year-old Aidan Robinson, who was remarkably proactive in what his needs were both for his daily utilitarian processes and for recreational activities. A cheerful child who was born without a left arm below the elbow, Aidan had experienced great disappointment with a series of prostheses he’d been saddled with over the years.
Coby met Aidan while he was at the Superhero Cyborgs summer camp, run by KIDmob at Brown University. At the camp, children are encouraged to design their own prosthetic and orthotic devices. Aidan’s mother was very involved, of course, in the process of helping him to find a better prosthesis with a priority on one that was affordable and lasting.
With Aidan’s idea for a sort of multi-purpose set of tools, Coby wanted to work with him in providing something that would grow with him and appeal to the ‘superhero’ idea he was going for with varying attachments. Designing something for a kid who wanted to play was something that needed to be built into the feel of the product.
Coby’s idea for the socket was highly desirable in that it could be custom-designed for Aidan, molded to his particular size, re-fitted with growth, and the parts central to the permanent design could be 3D printed — affordably. This transforms what was previously a rather impractical idea and design into something truly functional and helpful.
What is tremendously innovative about the prosthesis though is that it allows for multiple attachments so that Aidan can play the violin with the 3D printed bow, play with toys and games, use silverware, grab and clamp onto items including handlebars so that he can ride his bike, and more — with an open-ended design that allows for continual creation and production of attachments. He even has a Wii nunchuck attachment.
“Anything that mounts to a one half inch rod can become an attachment for Aidan’s prosthetic arm,” Coby points out.
Coby constructed the socket parts with both PLA plastic and NinjaFlex filament and printed it on a MakerBot 3D printer. Once printed, he was able to reshape the socket and its parts in hot water so they would be malleable for fitting to Aidan’s body. He was able to sew the sock portion of the prosthesis and then assemble the apparatus with several other key parts to include cable, screws, a ratchet knob, and a quick release clamp.
We’ve reported on many different ways that 3D printing has contributed to the world of prostheses, but when you find out about a child who is motivated, creative, and takes the initiative to be involved in the design of his new prosthesis, it’s moving—to say the least—and adds a whole new element to science, technology, and the sense of sharing knowledge and design to make the world a better place to live in. To watch a young one handle the challenges of replacing a body part in such a pragmatic, empowered way is beyond words.
For a complete list of instructions and parts needed for this amazingly simple prosthesis, check out Coby’s Instructable. Have you or a loved one ever had need of a prosthesis? Is this a design that could help someone you know? Tell us about it in the 3D Printed Prosthesis Forum over at 3DPB.com.