3D printers getting into the robotic exoskeleton game

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3d printer exoskeleton
The world of 3D printers has grown in leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. We are getting to the point where these devices can replicate just about anything you want, even some unsavory things like assault weapons. 3D printers are also becoming relatively inexpensive. The MakerBot currently clocks in at around $2,000 which, given the functionality, isn’t too bad. One area these handy and dandy printers haven’t tackled yet is medical technology. Until now.

First an anecdote. Two-year-old Emma was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a congenital disorder that can cause the joints to become locked in one place. Try as she might, she cannot use her arms to lift crayons, pick up toys or do the million of other things kids her age do with their arms. There are, of course, prosthetics that could help. However, due to Emma’s age and lack of built up muscle in the underdeveloped area, bulky and heavy metal exoskeletons are a no go.

That’s where the 3D printer comes in. Researchers at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children turned to 3D printing as a way to quickly create a similar device made out of lightweight plastic. Think of it as an exoskeleton that is more reminiscent of LEGOs than bulky metal. The good news? The printed exoskeleton works like a charm. Emma can now use her arms for all the myriad of things she heretofore only dreamed of.

Even cooler? Thanks to the magic of 3D printing, whenever her arms outgrow the old model all it takes is a simple adjustment, and then a print, to make a new pair. This isn’t the kind of thing that is on the market yet but it has pretty obvious, and astounding, implications for the world of prosthetic devices. We’ll keep you updated on this tech as it advances. Until then, watch this video of Emma and her new “magic arms.”