Thirteen-year-old Sydney Kendall had one request for the Washington University in St. Louis students building her a robotic prosthetic arm: Make it pink.
Kendall Gretsch, Henry Lather and Kranti Peddada, seniors studying biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, accomplished that and more. Using a 3-D printer, they created a robotic prosthetic arm out of bright-pink plastic. Total cost: $200, a fraction of the price of standard prosthetics, which start at $6,000.
“Currently, prosthetics are very expensive, and because kids keep growing, it is too costly for them to have the latest technology,” said the girl’s mother, Beth Kendall. “With the 3-D printer, a prosthetic can be made much less expensive. The possibilities of what can be done to improve prosthetics using this technology is very exciting.”
Miss Kendall lost her right arm in a boating accident when she was 6 years old. She learned to write with her left hand, but found most tasks difficult to accomplish with her prosthetic arm. Sydney said her new arm is easy to manipulate. By moving her shoulder, she can direct the arm to throw a ball, move a computer mouse and perform other tasks.
Peddada said it was thrilling to observe Sydney use her arm.
“It really showed us the great things you can accomplish when you bridge medicine and technology,” Peddada said.
The students developed the robotic hand as part of their engineering design course.
This prosthetic is battery-powered and controlled with an accelerometer like in the iPhone.
Prosthetic limbs are tricky for patients of any age, and especially for children, noted Goldfarb, because they’re still growing and need to move to larger-sized devices on a regular basis. Since prosthetics have no sensation, some kids are more comfortable making do with their existing natural limbs, he added.
While 3-D printers can cost about $2,500, they are capable of producing artificial limbs at a relatively low individual cost.