A two year old girl born with arthrogryposis, a congenital disease that left her unable to lift her own arms, although able to walk, has been given a new lease on life by a 3D printed robotic exoskeleton, enabling her to move freely for the very first time. The exoskeleton, made of a similar material to Lego, was manufactured using a Stratasys Dimension 3D printer so as to create a prosthetic light enough for young Emma to continue walking around freely.
The exoskeleton was based on another piece of robotics developed by the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware called the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), an orthopedic apparatus for the arm made from hinged bars and resistance bands that helps children with very little residual strength to move their arms in space. While WREX was able to help arthrogryposis sufferers as young as six, it was built into a wheelchair and was too heavy and bulky for a two year old to make use of regularly.
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This is where the 3D printing process comes in. While creating a lightweight exoskeleton by hand would be extremely difficult, 3D printing technology enabled the Alfred I. duPont researchers to not only customize WREX to Emma's specifications in their own CAD software, but then print that design at that exact specification.
The nature of 3D printing also makes it pretty easy to scale production – Stratasys's Dimension 3D printer has made it easy for Emma's doctors to fabricate robotic "jacket's" to keep up with her growth and that of a further fourteen subsequent child patients.
We’ve seen 3D printed creations of the culinary, military, fashion, historical and athletic varieties, but life-changing prostheses like Emma's "magic arms" are amongst the greatest uses we can imagine for the technology.
Check out the video below to see the effect the 3D-printed exoskeleton has had on Emma’s life.