Archives for category: prosthetics


One of the great challenges in biotechnology is interfacing synthetic materials with biological ones. Our bodies are designed with an extremely complex network of tissue, vascular, and neural structures to protect us and alarm us if there is something potentially dangerous to our system. If we sit for too long, for example, we feel discomfort and shift positions instinctively. If something is pressing against our leg and threatens to disrupt normal blood circulation, we perceive this threat with pain and pressure and respond accordingly.

Amputees and prosthetists have long been facing the issue of how to interface the residual limb with a prosthetic socket. Fitting for a prosthesis introduces a synthetic limb component to a biological one, and an improperly fitted socket can cause pain, pressure sores, and expose a residual limb to infection and tissue damage. And while there has been much improvement from the crude iron prosthetics that amputees once had to endure, there is still much room to improve to make the interface closer to a natural one.

One group at MIT has sought to address this disparity by developing a variable impedance prosthetic (VIPr) socket. Using MRI imaging and surface scanning techniques, researchers were able to find the tissue depth and where the socket was most likely to place pressure on the irregular bony areas of the residual limb. A socket was then 3D printed using this data to apply the least amount of pressure when fitted to the amputee.

After testing this socket on a below knee amputee, it was found that there was a 7-21% decrease in pressure on various bony areas of the leg compared to a regular socket during walking. While there is still no perfect socket or prosthetic interface for amputees, this is a step in the right direction to protect valuable and vulnerable human tissue.


The bionic exoskeleton will never, ever cease to be an amazing product. It is, in every way, aligned with the evolution of man, from technology to function. We have developed as humans to walk, and not sit, and so a product that addresses the captivity of being wheelchair bound addresses the essence of what we are: bipedal creatures. The robotic exoskeleton technology has been breathtaking to observe as it evolves, from bulky and functional to increasingly light, mobile, and personalized.

The prosthetic world is undergoing a revolution, and has never seen such advances as in the last 10 years. The work behind it, the hours of labor, the intelligence of those who are painstakingly developing these products while trying to negotiate with the FDA for home and personal use may be unseen, but the finalized product’s beauty is visible. As technology advances, however, so does the cost, and many home units of motorized prosthetics are still out of financial reach for those that need it.

Phoenix by SuitX addresses these financial and functional concerns while presenting an amazing, modular, lightweight product. Weighing only 27 pounds, Phoenix allows 4 hours of continuous use between charges, and can be put on piece by piece for ease of use. Its adaptive fit also allows for a more minimalist design, which can allow for versatility and a generally more aesthetic approach.

SuitX’s mission to accept feedback from its users with constant research and development, gear the product toward versatile ambulatory use, and focus on making not only a highly functional but affordable product marks the shift toward a more approachable and attainable bionic exoskeleton for paraplegics.

Anyone that has ever observed anyone with a neurological injury that renders them paralyzed in the lower extremities understands the necessity of a device that allows them to stand and ambulate. A constant sedentary and inactive life wreaks havoc on a person’s health and is psychologically extremely difficult. For years, otherwise healthy and often young people have been given only a wheelchair as the answer to their injury, but thankfully this sentence is changing with devices such as Phoenix.

Watch the video below for a demonstration and explanation of this amazing product.


While we don’t normally consider them much until they are injured, our hands are extremely complex and multifunctional, allowing us to carry out the numerous tasks of our day. Truly then, the evolving nature of bionic hands is amazing, getting closer and closer to mimicking the real thing. Saarland University is developing a bionic hand with bundles of smart wires that mimic the bundles of muscle fibers that comprise our muscles. In addition, these bionic hands have sensors built into the wires, much like our our own muscles, which have a ‘shape memory’ and can make precise movements similar to our own hands. This is a huge step toward solving the mechanical problem in prosthetics of trying to match the fine motor movements of a regular anatomical hand.

Though there is no official site for this product yet, the university outlined some of the amazing features of their project in a press release. The combined ‘shape memory’ and bundling of the smart wires also allows heat to be dissipated faster throughout the muscle-like complex, and as heat is energy this allows faster and more precise movements in the hand. The built in sensors in the smart wires also have a position sense, much like the receptors in our own hands that detect a change in position. This is how we know what position our hand is in without having to look at it. These small, but important features are the reason why this project, when it moves forward from the prototype phase, will provide great benefit for its users.


In honor of the upcoming Maker Faire Bay Area, I’d like to revisit the great e-Nable community, which comes together to provide 3D printed prosthetics for hand and finger amputees. The e-Nable community includes many things; a collection of open source hand and finger designs accompanied by an international team of volunteers which include engineers, teachers, 3D printers, designers and of course receivers. Once someone in need of hand reaches out to the community, they can find someone nearby with a 3D printer and assistance for fit and assembly. There is constant growth with the core of providing affordable prosthetics; there are events, forums, and the designs are constantly being discussed and modified on its Google+ community.

When e-Nable first started, it was with a handful of people and designs. There are now more than 5000 volunteers, and the open source design categories have now grown to 9 on the website including hand, wrist, and partial hand prosthesis, with numerous variations of each. I’d like to spotlight the ‘Raptor Hand,’ a great complete hand prosthetic design which was made in mind for ease of fabrication.

Once the Raptor design is selected as the design of choice, it is accompanied by the Handomatic web application which allows a user to input hand measurements to create custom files for 3D printing the final product. The e-Nable site provides users with a list of materials needed and links for where to get them, as well as a diagram of parts, instructions for printing, and the great instructional video below:

The site also provides a helpful diagram of how all the parts fit together:

Raptor Hand Parts - Exploded View


Raptor photo source


3D printing is truly changing healthcare, allowing us to print everything from hearts to skulls to exoskeletons to hands. This revolution has paved the way for making replacement limbs for amputees financially accessible. In England, a young roboticist has made it his mission to begin a project to provide a low cost, open source 3D design kit for those with missing hands. Through crowdfunding, Joel Gibbard of Open Bionics was able to create a low cost robotic hand kit, including designs for both a robotic myoelectric hand and a prosthetic hand.

The robotic hand is titled the Adams Hand, using electric motors to replace muscles and steel cables to replace tendons. Movement of the intact muscles of the forearm and wrist enable synergistic movement of the device, meaning that an action such as bending the wrist would engage the bending of the 3D fingers and hand. With grabbing an item, the fingers stop once there is an object impeding their movement. Thus, the hand is able to master the task of grasping a fragile, uneven object such as an egg.

The project is geared both toward amputees and researchers for use in advancing the field of robotics.

A DIY kit includes Adams Hand, Servo, Wrist (with generic connector), wire tendon, mounting screws, servo horn, and instruction manual.  A price is not yet set. Please see the video below.

As technology and the 3D printing boom in healthcare moves ahead, it’s inspiring to see that some are still thinking of people that may not have access to all the great healthcare opportunities that come with more resources.