According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year approximately 1,500 babies in the United States are born with upper limb reductions and about 750 are born with lower limb reductions. While every incident is significant, the relatively low numbers rule out using mass-produced prosthetics. Custom-made prosthetics are expensive, especially when children quickly outgrow them, requiring new devices frequently.
The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Computer Science has an ongoing project developing methods to employ 3D printing to fabricate and distribute upper limb prosthetics. Now the team is turning its attention to creating assistive devices for newborns. According to members of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) within the School of Computer Science, 3D printing makes customization much easier than traditional prosthetic fabrication methods and can simplify distribution by sending the necessary files to local printing services.
The CMU HCII team is also working in conjunction with a global network of volunteer makers called e-NABLE. e-NABLE connects people who need upper limb assistive devices, people who are able to help with designing or printing 3D prosthetics, and people or organizations interested in supporting the network with donations of funds, materials, or 3D printers. The e-NABLE assistive design files are openly available.
The higher level implications of the HCII research focus on revolutionizing the overall process from better algorithms, creating virtual teams to allow people to work across geographic distance, and studying how to work with clinical experts in assistive technology.