Annika Emmert has something in common with Winter the dolphin – the inspiration for the Dolphin Tale movies. The 10-year-old Emmert was born without her right hand and a portion of her arm, and Winter lost her tail when she became tangled in a crab trap. Now both have received groundbreaking, 3D printed prosthetic devices to make their lives more comfortable.
The man behind the scenes in making sure the Lady and the Dolphin have what they need, Albert Manero, is the Executive Director of Limbitless Solutions, a volunteer 3D printing prosthetic manufacturing group. Manero is a current Fulbright Scholar studying for a Doctoral Degree in Mechanical Engineering, and he leads a team which develops and distributes new limbs.
Manero and Limbitless Solutions, based at the University of Central Florida, create custom, 3D printed arms for children. He and a group of friends and classmates can design and deliver a functioning, 3D printed arm in around eight weeks and at the startling cost of just $350.
Emmert, recently took a trip to see Winter the dolphin – Emmert is a big fan of the movies – and what she thought was a private poolside visit with Winter turned into something much more. Manero and his team handed Emmert a cooler she assumed was filled with tasty fish treats for Winter, opened it up and discovered a new robotic arm.
And it was a big deal indeed. Emmert enjoys riding horses, playing soccer and singing, but without a comfortable right arm, she couldn’t do another one of her activities, play the guitar.
“This is what this is all about,” said Michael Gonzales, a member of the Limbitless team. “And we want to do more.”
Emmert has worn a variety of prostheses over the years, but they all seemed to fall short when it came to smooth movement or relative comfort, and while some of them allowed her to hold her guitar pick and play, they also caused her pain.
The new arm was created using Stratasys 3D printing technology, and aside from the very low cost of such arms, it also features several other advantages. It’s lightweight, causes very little strain on Emmert’s elbow and let’s her hold a hair brush with ease. The hand operates by using electrodes triggered by the muscles in Emmert’s own arm, allowing her to open, close and control it fairly easily.
The arm is about 14 inches long, weighs less than 3 pounds, and each of the modular parts of the device can be upgraded in size as Emmert grows. In total, the arm took only about 40 hours to print, and judging by the smile on Emmert’s face was well worth it!
Are you aware of any other projects which use 3D printing technology to help people with physical challenges? Let us know in the 3D Printed Prosthetics forum thread on 3DPB.com.