Students at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL ) have created a robotic prosthetic arm for 13-year-old Sydney Kendall. The total cost? $200, a fraction of the price of standard prosthetics, which start at $6,000.
“Currently, prosthetics are very expensive. Because kids keep growing, it is too costly for them to have the latest technology,” Sydney’s mother, Beth Kendall told the WUSTL newsroom.
“With the 3D printer, a prosthetic can be made much less expensive. The possibilities of what can be done to improve prosthetics using this technology is very exciting.”
Sydney lost her right arm in a boating accident when she was six years old. Although she learned to write with her left hand, Sydney found most tasks difficult to accomplish with her prosthetic arm. Fortunately, her new arm is easy to manipulate. Indeed, by simply moving her shoulder, Sydney can direct the arm to throw a ball, move a computer mouse and perform other tasks.
The robotic prosthetic was designed and printed by Kendall Gretsch, Henry Lather and Kranti Peddada, a trio of seniors studying biomedical engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. The students developed the robotic hand as part of their engineering design course with Joseph Klaesner, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy at the School of Medicine. Several local medical practitioners, including orthopedic hand surgeons Charles A. Goldfarb, MD, and Lindley Wall, MD, both associate professors of orthopedic surgery at the School of Medicine, served as mentors.
“They brought their engineering expertise and we shared our practical experience with prosthetics and the needs of children,” Goldfarb explained in a recent blog post about the project. “It was a valuable experience as Kendall, Henry and Kranti had no prosthetic experience and were able to think about the issues in a very different way.”
According to the WUSTL newsroom, the prosthetic is battery-powered and controlled with an accelerometer (like in the iPhone). The thumb moves with a slightly different trigger – compared with finger motion.
While professional-grade 3D printers can cost about $2,500, they are capable of producing artificial limbs at a relatively low individual cost.
“These prosthetic hands are really exciting because they are inexpensive, can be remade when the child grows and they do offer functional abilities,” Goldfarb concluded.