As human beings, evolution did not bless us with the weird ability to regrow lost body parts like insects like spiders. If you were unfortunate to lose a hand, leg, finger, or toe; you will have to learn to make do without those parts. However, what we lack in terms of nature given ability, we do more than compensate for it using our evolutionary superior minds to create innovative improvise.
While the medical technology to re-grow human parts is still years from reality, human innovation has perfected the technology of making prosthetic arms and legs for hundreds of years now. Albeit there still room for growth on that front, we have made yet another milestone step in the perfection of development of prosthetic arms and legs using cutting-edge technology 3D Printing.
Seven-year-old Hailey Dawson will be throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the kick off Game 4 of the World Series in Houston, U.S.A. At just seven years old, Dawson has already thrown the first pitch in two Major League games and is now set to add a third to her belt; though the next one will be in a bigger audience yet.
What is unique about Dawson, is that she will be throwing the ball using a 3D Printed prosthetic hand designed and created by researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The young girl was born with a rare condition called Poland Syndrome, which left her without three fingers on her right hand.
In the United States, just like most other countries around the world, good prosthetics are expensive. The more comfortable, intuitive, and near-real the prosthetics, the more dollars you will have to part with. The situation gets worse when you learn that most insurance policies in America don’t cover prosthetics; especially prosthetic arms costing over $25,000 for children who will outgrow them in time.
Most insurance companies deem prosthetic arms unnecessary for children, and for that reason, you won’t find many kids with technologically advanced arms. Things look better when you are talking about prosthetic legs, as they are deemed very necessary; even then, they plan won’t cover the pricey technologically advanced ones.
Well, one not-for-profit company, Open Hand Project wants to address that hole in healthcare insurance using 3D printing technology. The company uses 3D printers to create customized 3D printed hands or arms at a dramatically reduced manufacturing costs. The 3D printed prosthetic hands or arms are easily swapped should it be broken or the wearer outgrows it.
Yong Dawson, the mother to young Hailey, reached out to the local University, UNLV, and asked if they could create a custom 3D printed prosthetic hand for her 7-year-old daughter. The chairman of the school of mechanical engineering department at the University, Brendan O’Toole obliged.
O’Toole told TechCrunch, “Additive manufacturing has made it possible to provide low-cost prosthetic devices for children like Hailey. We can now make a few measurements of a child’s hand, process them through our custom design tool that generates 37 CAD models in a few minutes, and then have printed parts ready the next day.”
O’Toole and his team got to work on designing and printing Hailey’s 3D printed prosthetic arm on a Stratasys 3D printer. The beauty of it is that Hailey can easily customize her prosthetic hand in term of colors that match the game; from Dodger blue, Astros orange, or anything else that looks more neutral.
Experts believe 3D printing will disrupt the prosthetics industry, and companies operating in that space need to jump onto the bandwagon or face being driven out of the market by their competition who do adapt 3D printed prosthetics.