A 3D printed robotic prosthetic from IKO Creative Prosthetic System first came onto the scene back in the summer of 2015. The prosthetic was unique in that it not only had a housing molded to the shape of the wearer’s arm, and it allowed for the wearer to put a 3D prosthetic on that can utilize custom Lego designs. This innovative piece of tech has recently been awarded the Grand Prix prize and recognized at a 2016 Paris expo in France called Netexplo.
According to the BBC the device was celebrated both for its ingenuity and creativity, combining the versatile application of 3D printed technology with robotic prostheses and the ability to make up custom limb attachments with actual functionality out of Legos managed to turn a lot of heads at Netexplo.
Creator of the IKO prosthetic, Carlos Arturo Torres, used to work at the Future Lab research department at the Lego Group. Torress explained to BBC that he wasn’t expecting to win but it’s something he wanted to bring to life after coming up in a region where war and the cost of fighting can leave permanent and seemingly irreparable scars on human life…
“I wasn’t expecting the Grand Prix.
“As a Colombian, you grow up with the arms conflict and we are so aware of people losing limbs or having difficulties because of war” […] “When I was at Lego, I realised how social toys can be,”
The IKO project is currently seeking investment to become something bigger, larger and more consumer friendly. They released a video last June showcasing how the prosthetic is built, how it operates and how it can be used with relatively very little physical application to bring the attachments to life. You can check it out in the video below, courtesy of Technoneo.
According to the BBC article, the above prosthetic with the Lego attachment will cost about $5,000. It will cost $1,000 to get a new fitted socket as the child grows older and needs a replacement.
If $5,000 seems a little steep (and for the average person it most certainly is), there are cheaper alternatives being made available right now.
Though crude in functionality and archaic when it comes to the ability to hold and perform precision movement, there is another 3D printed prosthetic making widespread appearances across San Francisco thanks to the Main Learning and Literacy Center at a San Francisco based public library in California.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle they’re reporting that the library is utilizing its resources with the help of good Samaritans to 3D print prosthetic limbs to help those in the area in need.
It takes 25 hours to print all of the pieces and around three hours to build. The arm consists of 289 layers and 30 pieces. The library has made two arms so far.
According to library program manager Laura Lay, this is worthwhile venture to help kids and the fact that the parts are easily replaceable means it won’t cost an arm and a leg to keep them up and active…
“These hands really work for a kid that is growing up. The joint parts just snap in, so if a piece breaks, they can just print another one. There are really positive implications for what we can do with our printers.”
The hand can grip things using a little pulley system, it’s identical to the other 3D printed hands that have been made and handed out for free via volunteer programs. It’s a basic design that looks a little bit like Venom Snake’s prosthetic in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but offers far less functionality. Nevertheless, groups like E-nable have managed to ship out about 1,500 3D prosthetic limbs to kids around the world in 37 different countries since 2013.
Some research groups are already looking into ways on advancing the tech to include more than just the ability to have a functional arm. There’s a lot of research being put into making prosthetic digits less cumbersome and more nimble.
A recent report from EPFL News revealed advancements in sensitive-touch robotics that allow for digits to expand and restrict the grip around an object using variable electrodes. Think of it as something similar to Batman’s memory-fabric cape in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. They explain it in the video below.
It’s pretty neat tech, utilizing stretchable silicon with specially designed electrodes that allow them to grab a variety of objects of that have varying degrees of density or sensitivity. They’re still looking at making the soft electronic grip more applicable to common usage, but I can’t see that being particularly difficult.
The small size and the strong grip would make it a perfect accouterments to some of the robotic prosthetic limbs currently in development or at the point of seeking mass market distribution.