3D-Printed "Exo" Prosthetics Give A Lightweight Leg Up

With America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently concluded, a major source of the horrors our servicemen endured - losing body parts to improvised explosive devices - will hopefully now be curtailed.  But for the many whom these injuries have affected, as well as for those who have biological, accidental, or other medical issues that would cause the loss of a limb, art and science have combined to help rebuild the missing pieces.

The Exo, not alive, but definitely kicking.
(Image courtesy gizmag.com.)

As reported by wired.com, artist William Root (of NYC's Pratt Institute) has teamed up with MIT to produce effective, comfortable, and cool-looking prosthetics that are created via 3D printing.  Root's desire to combine form and function sacrificed nothing from the aesthetic nor biomechanical sides of the prosthetic process, which is in itself an innovative task.  “Prostheses are not aesthetically pleasing, extremely expensive, and difficult to produce,” he noted.

Using MIT's "Fitsocket" technology from their Biomechatronics Lab, a scan of the prospective recipient's leg is taken.  The Fitsocket technology adeptly gauges the strenth or give of the recipient's remaining tissue, then forms a perfectly specialized "socket" to join the wearer to the limb.  This data is then also used by Root to create a 3D model of the recipient's leg, using a stress analysis tool to determine where the new "Exo" limb would need the most weight support and how to avoid weak points.  A mesh structure is then rendered using this information.

Yes, it will eventually probably be used to make robots in your own image.  We'll deal with that later.
(Image courtesy beforeitsnews.com.)

The sintered titanium-powder (or heavy-duty plastic) mesh gives a minimalist yet realist visual impression of a leg.  While not as traditionally inconspicuous-acting as a flesh-toned limb trying to blend in, Root feels part of the part's new power is its unwillingness to appear as an imposter appendage like something that "crosses into the Uncanny Valley."  Eventually he plans for wearers to be able to fashionably customize their hot new legs to their personal tastes.

Unfortunately they're not yet available in "Crazy Stilts" version yet.
(Image courtesy diamondesqproductions.com.)

Root's business proposal for the Exo, as cited by 3dprintingindustry.com, illuminates the scope of his hope both in quantity and quality, stating, “There are over 2 million amputees in the United States with 185,000 amputations each year. Over 90% of those amputations are lower extremity amputations; millions of Americans are suffering from hindered mobility. Prostheses enable patients to regain their freedom and much of the functionality they had lost. At the same time they help to restore the amputees’ spirit and help with the psychological recovery from having lost part of oneself.”

Best of all, Root's current designs allow the limbs to be printed for as little as $1,800, where traditional prostheses could cost ten times that.  While specialized knee, ankle, or added-mobility joints will cost more, overall costs would likely fall as 3D technology escalates ever more rapidly.  Though the current "Exo" models are not tested to bear full human weight yet, this problem is being analyzed, with the Fitsocket computer program experimenting with where different points could feasibly be augmented to bear more of the burden.

The Fitsocket testing hardware has got your legs, and it knows how to use them.
(Image courtesy wired.com.)

The specialized socket fits, lightweight lift, unique design and ever-decreasing manufacturing costs could make life a lot happier for thos requiring prostheses.  And just as soon as the proper weight ratio is figured out on the Exo, you could use one to help jump for joy.

A closeup of Exo's mesh-meat.  This kind of cage means freedom!
(Image courtesy hexapolis.com.)

1 comment:

  1. This sintered titanium-powder technology is just amazing. The resulting titanium parts are so versatile and can be used in so many different applications. I am really curious where this is going. Titanium parts will definitively see an increase in importance.