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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prosthetics Can Be Made Affordable With 3-D Printers

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By Clark Howard

ClarkHoward.com


If you end up losing a body part, prosthetics can be expensive. But the miracle of new technology has a cost-effective answer.

Here's a look at the emerging field of cheap prosthetics

One person can make a difference in ways that are so unexpected. I read a story in The Los Angeles Times that absolutely inspired me.

Mick Ebeling had read an article about 16 year old Daniel who had his hands and arms blown off in the civil war that's plagued Sudan. Daniel was in a remote hospital, and could not do anything for himself. He depended on others for everything.

So Mick, who was a political science major who became a Hollywood producer, decided he could make a difference. He comes up with this crazy idea to travel to Sudan with a laptop computer and a 3D printer.

Mick goes to this remote village and makes an arm for Daniel. It took 2 days for the really cheap 3D printer he brought to fabricate what the newspaper says is a "skeletal plastic hand bolted to an arm-like cylinder."

Now Daniel can feed himself with a spoon, and step by step, he's has a chance at having more function in his life.

Mick is now part of a group called Not Impossible that has volunteers working to solve things like this. Their whole idea is to use 3-D printing to make these prosthetics as cheap as possible.

This guy inspires me. We hear so much about bad technology, with the spying on you and the constant invasion of privacy. But this is a good use of technology.

 

Affordable prosthetic hands and jaws thanks to 3-D printing

Some months ago, I read an Associated Press report about a South African carpenter who lost 4 fingers using a circular saw. He could not afford the cost of a limb that would allow him to continue earning a living. So he decided to use a 3D printer to make a prosthetic.

From that experiment, a company was born called RoboHand.net. The company's design are available open source for non-commercial use. They're not looking to make any money from this; it's just about helping people. The really amazing thing is it's now possible to make a custom hand fit for the exact hand size of an individual who needs it for $500!

In other news, it was last year that CNET reported a company called LayerWise used a computer-assisted drawing to make an exact titanium replica of a woman's jaw and then "print" it up on the spot before the surgery.

It may sound like science fiction, but it's happening right now. And as you can probably tell, a 3-D printer is machine that instead of making a photocopy of a piece of paper actually makes an item by creating it layer by layer out of platic, metal or other material.

Meanwhile, another company called Bespoke Innovations is planning to make artificial limbs that are highly customized to the individual with the help of 3-D printers. Best of all, these prosthetics can be made at a mere one-tenth their usual cost.

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