Kind Prosthetics

Children in the Global South (the developing world) who are born without or lose an upper limb early on have limited options for an attractive prosthesis that can empower them and improve their self image. Kind Prosthetics seeks to give autonomy to children by providing them with customizable prostheses for a fraction of the cost of what is currently available on the market.

Prosthetics for Children
Limb loss, the term given to those missing a limb, is often a misnomer for children. Many in the community prefer the term of “limb difference” to better describe their situation. Prosthetics that try and emulate the grasping motion of a hand are often ineffective at helping a child as they grow up capable of completing most tasks with just one hand. In fact, the majority of children given an upper limb prosthetic will prefer to go without it rather than deal with its limited benefits and the effort necessary to don it.

With that in mind, why don’t we try to help children enhance their abilities with prosthetics that augment their bodies in creative and playful ways? Kind Prosthetics rethinks the low cost prosthetic in a way that makes it truly useful for a growing child.

User Research
Over the course of the project I interviewed stakeholders in the process from the users who would wear the prosthesis, to their parents, to the professionals who usually fit and produce a prosthesis.

My largest inspiration for this project was a young girl in Boston who has a partial hand. Through talking with her and her mother about their experiences with existing prosthetics on the market I was able to gain a better sense of what a child could actually benefit from having.

Many of the existing prosthetics are extremely expensive which makes the case for buying a new one for a child every few months/ years quite difficult. The ability to have a product that grows with the child became integral to the success of my proposed prosthesis.

Insights
1. Children who grow up without a limb do not experience a strong sense of loss. This loss is inflicted by other children for their otherness.
2. At least 90% of daily activities can be easily executed without a second upper limb. There are very few tasks that cannot be done with one hand after some practice.
3. Giving a child without a limb the ability to be better than their peers increases their self worth and self image and decreases overall stigma.

Material Choices
Early on I made the choice to aim towards a product that could be easily made and easily customized. This approach initially pointed me in the direction of 3D printing. After trying this method and talking with other industrial designers who attempted low cost 3D printed hands I realized that this method would still be too costly for the majority of children in the developing world. The quality from a cheap 3D printer would be too rough on a child’s skin and the prints failed too often.

I came across the idea of using thermoplastic sheet material as it is often used for corrective braces. The material is easy to clean and some versions come with foam backing making them soft on the skin. The material is also incredibly easy to form and even re-form as the child grows.

In the absence of large quantities of orthoplast (it was nearly impossible to import into Denmark due to absurd VAT costs) I resorted to using acrylic for my prototypes. Each blank was laser cut and then heat formed quickly with a hot air gun.

After a matter of seconds the form would cool enough to be used. This emulates the process a user would undergo – heat forming a piece of orthoplast by placing it in hot water for a couple of minutes, they would then have a minute or two to form the piece are the short limb of the child.

Kids Know Best
On a visit to the local prosthetist’s office I was lucky enough to be shown a variety of custom jobs that had been requested. One such was the the purple sheath shown in the image gallery. A child had requested such a sheath with some custom cutlery simply for eating as otherwise she had little use for her prosthesis. Such an example was a huge eye opener and made me start to ask the questions that would lead me to design more activity specific prostheses.

Purpose Oriented
Each prototype was created with a specific purpose in mind. The goal was to create a series of limbs that could be switched out and used when necessary, for such tasks as writing, holding extra objects, two handed play, and swimming.

To ensure ease of fitting, each limb is created from a single piece of orthoplast and can then be bent and fitted by an adult to the child.

Small Things
What kids want is not usually what is most apparent to adults. One child I spoke with wished she had fingernails to paint. Low end prosthetics rarely take such considerations into account, nor do high end ones. This hand model allows the addition of fingernails while the material ensures the ability to easily clean and start anew.

Online Presence
For those who have access to an internet cafe or to a maker space, they can go online and customize their prosthesis as need be. A paper order system would be used for those who are unable to access a computer. The value added in the online editor is the ability to view changes but the system is simple enough that a paper method could be successful as well.

Editor
With the ability to change colour, patterns, and add fingernails if desired, a child can really make each prosthesis their own. Many models would be offered including one for appearances, for writing, a slingshot, climbing, swimming, and even ones purely for the sake of something interesting to augment the body with.

To get started there are only 2 measurements that are necessary. The dimensions of the prosthesis can be determined off of these.

Distribution
In order to get the prosthesis into the hands of those who need it most I began looking at hyperlocal production methods. By shipping material directly maker spaces or industrial spaces with laser cutters, the time and distance to the customer could be greatly reduced.

Displayed are just a few of the registered hackerspaces in the world.

Next Steps
This system was designed to be open sourced. Much like the eNABLE Foundation releases all of their design files, I would hope that anyone who comes up with new laser cut files would also share them with the world.

I am continuing to work on this independently and hope to be able to test it in the next few months. Currently I am conducting more thorough material tests now that I am back in the states with more access to a variety of medical grade thermoplastics.

To follow this project in it’s most updated form, please visit http://karan-chaitanya-mudgal.format.com/