A group of scientists from the University of Lincoln have developed a myoelectric prosthetic arm for toddlers. The main project idea is to allow frequent prosthetics replacement when children grow out of the previous ones. 3D-printing of such devices allows for drastic cost reductions.
It is not only accidents that can make one lose a limb. Some children are born without them, and it is of utmost importance to make them use prosthetics as soon as possible. Such a rush is explained by the fact that a child must get physically used to an artificial limb in the earliest age possible, which will allow to utilize the prosthetic in adulthood without any psychological limitations.
Myoelectric prosthetics has been successfully used for quite some time, and regarded as the best practice in modern arm prosthesis. The prosthetics receive impulses from nerve endings, which then get transferred to electric drives, which allow children to control the hand motions. The main point is that children grow up fast, the bionic arms need to be changed once in a several months, and the above-mentioned prosthetics are reasonably expensive. This leads to the point when the necessary treatment becomes unaffordable luxury.
Now, thanks to work done at the University of Lincoln, highly functional but still low-cost prosthetics are available for children – specifically toddlers. The 3D-scanning allows to receive precise outlines of stumps and adjust new sleeves to the required limbs length, without having to wear a smelly, clunky plaster cast. Moreover, the employment of 3D-printing technologies entails manufacturing of accurate sleeves with precise fit. The electrical insides of a prosthetic limb can be easily re-used, so there is no need to throw away all the sensors and motors. Only the active part of an artificial limb (i.e. wrist and fingers) needs to be scaled up, and the rest can be constructed from the previously used components.
Some common 3D-printing techniques such as lower infill and/or bionic design will literally “come in handy” and allow to decrease the limb’s weight which will make it easier for child to wear and employ. It is not necessary to print a complete limb housing since it will be too heavy. These are main pointsб which the team led by Dr. Khaled Goher, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering at the University of Lincoln aim to solve.
“Many traditional active prosthetics are unsuitable for toddlers as they are very time consuming to construct and heavy. So far, the device has been tested for grasp force and effectiveness using a range of everyday objects including toys, bottles and building blocks but the next stage of the project is to test the prototype design on toddlers. We are planning to use algorithm training which would utilise games to engage with the toddlers and attune the system to the ‘grab’ signals from the armband.” – explained Dr. Goher.
There is also a similar project called “Motorica” that manufactures artificial body-powered and myoelectric hands and arms, with headquarters in Russia. Those “CYBI” body-powered hand systems are also 3D-printed and take patients’ anatomical peculiarities into account. The devices may also feature versatile gadget mounts and can be colored, if required. The customization of an artificial arm can be viewed as a mean of coping with a psychological trauma caused by a loss of limb. For example, adding a flashlight and painting the prosthetics in a style of your child’s favorite cartoon will make the kid feel like a superhero. That’s the way little patients are treated at “Motorica”.
As a result, the team from the UK managed to manufacture a cost-efficient prosthetics which can be successfully used by toddlers. However, there are no strict age restrictions. For example, the prototype had been developed and tested on the basis of a four year old child. The main distinctive feature of the device is the employment of a safe ‘soft grip’ technology. The artificial arm is able to hold objects that weigh up to 400 g (14 oz), which is more than enough for children. There is no further information about where and when such prosthetics will become available yet, but developers provided some hints that it will become an open design project.
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