Published on August 5th, 2012 | by Steven Hodson0
A 3D Printed Exoskeleton Lets A Toddler Use Her Arms [Video]
When we talk about exoskeletons many of us will think of those heavy metal based systems being developed for the military and as awesome as they might be their use is pretty well limited to adults who are able to strap on those heavy exoskeletons.
However for children like Emma Lavelle such exoskeletons are out of the question, or at least they were until a presentation by company called Stratasys and a 3d printed version of a WREX (Wilmingtong Robotic Exoskeleton) system that had been developed by researchers at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware.
You see young Emma suffers from a disease called arthrogryposis multiplex congentia (AMC) which is a condition where multiple joints in a body are fixed and as result they have very limited movement. With Emma the disease meant that she could barely move her arms and legs but with this new 3D printed version of WREX she able to move her arms.
Emma is able to wear this version of WREX because it is made out of ABS plastic which makes it very much lighter than the standard WREX that is made out of metal. While researchers Tariq Rahman, Ph.D., head of pediatric engineering and research at the hospital and Whitney Sample, research designer, had been working for years to make the device significantly smaller for younger and younger children their youngest, up until Emma, patient had been six years old.
At two years of age Emma was the youngest yet which meant that the researchers had to try once more to come up with modification to make their WREX system even smaller and lighter. This is where Stratasys came in thanks to their 3D printer:
For Emma to wear the WREX outside the workshop, Rahman and Sample needed to scale it down in size and weight. The parts would be too small and detailed for the workshop’s CNC system to fabricate. But humming along near Sample’s desk was a Stratasys 3D Printer, which can build complex objects automatically from computer designs — like an inkjet printer but in three dimensions. Sample often used it to work out ideas with physical models, so he 3D printed a prototype WREX in ABS plastic. The difference in weight allowed Sample to attach the Emma-sized WREX to a little plastic vest.
The 3D-printed WREX turned out to be durable enough for everyday use. Emma wears it at home, at preschool, and during occupational therapy. And the design flexibility of 3D printing lets Sample continually improve upon the assistive device, working out ideas in CAD and building them the same day.
The potential of 3D printing continues to amaze me and confirm my belief that it holds incredible changes in our world just waiting for us to print them out.
Here is a video of young Emma using her custom 3D printed WREX system.