October 24, 2019

The future of prosthetics – two companies delivering fun and function to children who’ve experienced limb loss

Children are often more resilient to change than we realise. They can adapt and learn to live with health problems or upheaval in a way that often surprises us adults.

However when a child experiences the loss of a limb – as a result of a birth defect, an illness such as meningitis, or an accident – anyone would want to ensure that they have the best chance in life to succeed and thrive.

This is where prosthetics come in, and with the advent of 3D printing a lot has been done to make prosthetics more accessible and customised than ever before.

Two organisations are breaking new ground with 3D printing to deliver effective prostheses to children who have experienced limb loss. Whether that’s by bringing them to kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity or by approaching the tech in a different way to make them feel less nervous about wearing the device.

An environmentally-friendly approach to helping children in need

Milk bottle caps are ten a penny. We often throw them in the recycling without much thought as to what they are going to be used for, unless we go out of our way to donate them to a charity who will use them to raise funds.

One organisation in Australia, however, has a very specific aim in mind. Envision, supported by the Coca Cola Foundation, is encouraging people to donate their milk bottle caps so that they can be turned into prosthetic arms for children in need who wouldn’t otherwise have access to advanced prosthetics.

The milk bottle caps will be extruded (melted and formed into another material) and used in a 3D printer to create fully-functioning prosthetic arms and more.

This is a fantastic idea, one that is not only putting plastic waste to good use but also doing it for a fantastic cause.

A marvel-lous approach to prosthetics

The other company that is certainly worth mentioning, although you may have seen their prosthetics already, is OpenBionics.

Based in Bristol, this cutting-edge manufacturer of prosthetic limbs has become an internet sensation with their ‘Hero Arm’. Not only is it the first clinically-approved 3D printed arm, offering lightweight and affordable prosthesis to children that delivers a range of hand movements, it has also managed to secure tie-ins with huge brands such as Marvel and Star Wars; the Hero Arm has even been endorsed by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill.

OpenBionics have delivered not just a feat of engineering that helps children accomplish day-to-day tasks they might otherwise find difficult, they have also made what might otherwise be an awkward device into something that draws attention for all the right reasons. What better way to ensure kids who have experienced limb loss feel accepted by their peers, and help educate society as a whole about those who may have lost limbs.

Technology from companies like OpenBionics and Envision have the power to change so many lives for the better. My hope is that, as 3D printing and other tech advances, the options for children (and adults) who have experienced limb loss expand ever further, ensuring that they can live as full a life as possible despite the loss of a limb.

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