Mechanics & Locomotion

Mar 1, 2017


The United States of America (USA), the country where the number of people who saw amputees one of their members amounted to two million, is the same country that now offers the market a pioneering prosthetic technology that will surely improve the lives of those who have seen deprived of a part of their selves.

William Root is the American industrial designer who has revolutionised the market, by creating titanium prostheses with a 3D printer. This is the Exo Prosthetic Leg, a prosthesis that uses 3D technology, scans the limb that has been amputated and, later, through an advanced modelling software, makes it possible to build a limb, as natural as possible, and cheaper.

According with William Root, «the main obstacle to the production of cheaper prostheses with the technology available today is a high degree of process customisation, which involves the manufacture of molds and an endless period of patient adaptation and adjustment to the limbs».

The usefulness, pertinence, and even surprisingly the fact that the prosthesis has not yet created a state-of-the-art, ergonomic, and affordable materials has made William Root's work jump from Behance, a creative website, for Bored Panda, a reference community for art, design and photography creative professionals. With the help of Social Networks, the designer's innovative project gained a global dimension and recognition, which led him to get the financing and the means of production needed to develop his discovery.

It should be noted that, in the United States of America, there are more than two million amputees registered, with 185,000 new victims annually. According with the data provided by the Exo Prosthetic Leg brand, 90% of amputees lose precisely the forearms, hands, feet and other body´s peripheral areas. One such example is the case of tattoo artist JC Sheitan Tenet, a resident of Lion, France, who lost one of his arms 22 years ago. However, not being paralysed by the loss, Tenet was able, thanks to the help of the French artist, JL Gonzal, a modified prosthesis that brings a coupled tattoo machine. In this way, Tenet gave back to his misfortune, became an example of resiliency and courage, and became a tattooist of excellence, "similar to style of Edward Scissorhands film", directed by Tim Burton.

Thus, Exo replaced a complexity of construction steps until the final prototype arrived, for only two: scan and print. By replacing the various phases of construction of the traditional prosthesis with the impression of a 3D exoskeleton, the leg is not just a robotic and inhuman compilation of parts, but an intimate and customisable addition to each body, respecting its shape.

The 3D scanning technology enables a virtual cast of the amputated limb to be created, as well as the intact limb, allowing the anatomy of the prosthesis to match the limb to the original limb. The 3D technology coupled with FitSocket technology, developed by the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology's) Biomechatronics lab, which records the properties of tissues, allows a better fit between the amputated leg and the socket.

The scan of limbs and prosthesis mechanisms are combined into a 3D mesh model to create the prototype. The member is then transformed into an exoskeleton with a custom pattern on the surface. Finally, the model is sent to 3D titanium printing, which is extremely tough, lightweight and made of biocompatible metal. The parts are joined together by a process called laser sintering, and the printed components are immediately ready for assembly. The custom prosthetic component connectors are inserted into the prosthesis, and the use of a standard pyramidal connector makes the assembly more secure and allows final adjustments.

As the purpose of prosthetics is to provide greater freedom, to recover part of the lost mobility, as well as contribute to the psychological recovery of those who saw a part of themselves removed, it becomes fundamental to improve the models of traditional prostheses, which due to the nature of its construction, incorporate a very robotic and mechanical feeling that affects psychologically and physically, in a negative way, the well-being of those who use them.

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