How 3D Printing A Leg or An Arm Can Change The World


In another amazing entry from the Stanford eCorner series Scott Summit, Co-Founder and CTO of Bespoke Innovations, talks about “Products with a Purpose.”  He shows us how he’s helping change people’s lives through the use of simple technologies to customize prosthetic devices.  His company has developed a way to scan the morphology (contour, shape, size, etc) of a person’s “other” limb (leg, arm) to create a prosthetic version that can either become unnoticeable or fashionable, depending on how the person wants to customize it.

Most importantly he’s showing us how this capability and intersection of cheap high-quality scanning, laser cutting and 3D printing can change the world.

Here are some quick points I took from the talk:

  • He was inspired by the TV show – 6 million dollar man and how that character was “built” with bionic implants
  • As many people wear glasses for cosmetic reasons as for corrective reasons.  This is because designers stepped in to make glasses fashionable.  How can we apply that to devices like a prosthetic leg?
  • We often say “don’t stare” at people with certain corrective devices, like prosthetics.  All this does is help further build the wall separating them from “us”.  Yet, no one stares at people wearing glasses as a corrective device.  Why do they have to be different?
  • Human body is mass customized. Not mass manufactured.
  • Scanning allows us to get an exact morphology of a person’s body.
  • Printing one version/size/shape per person at the customized level is the same cost as manufacturing the same size for everyone.
  • A traditional 20k, 7 direction knee is now free because it’s printed while printing the rest of the leg.
  • The system to print a leg takes a 130watt laser 30 hours. This is the same amount of electricity as garage door opener being pushed a couple times.  It’s dishwasher safe (important since you will want to clean a prosthetic). Recyclable.
  • You can print a leg for 4K.  Current legs cost around 60-100K.  They’re working on a $400 dollar model for the developing world.  It also only takes 2-4 weeks for the entire process but can be shortened to a week – much faster than traditional processes.
  • They’re using high design to make the prosthetics personal and fashionable.  Can embed different textures, colors, logos, whatever. The different materials and personal nature allow a person to become “connected” to their body again.  The prosthetics becomes much more that just function.
  • With this design minded output, it becomes OK to stare now.
  • The company is hiring fashion and bio med backgrounds.
  • 3D printing is capable of producing everything from houses to biologics (living tissue).
  • The new 787 Dreamliner and Stealth aircraft and many new cars have 3D printed parts as part of the regular manufacturing process.

While I hope you may never need their prosthetic services, I think it’s a great talk to see how you can apply certain new technologies to improve the overall quality of life.

Matt Kane

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