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Superhero Prosthetics: The Way Forward

When thinking of an artificial limb, perhaps all you visualise is a basic flesh-coloured plastic or metal design. Something fairly nondescript and hidden away by the wearer. But prosthetic technology is continually advancing and moving away from the inanimate. A start-up company in Bristol has demonstrated just how awesome and exciting prosthetics can be. 

Open Bionics aspire in turning disabilities into superpowers! Their ethos is about turning science fiction into reality. Children with limb differences can play at being superheroes or bionic marvels.  “We wanted to make prosthetics a bit more inspirational rather than medical, skin-coloured, and frankly, not very attractive to look at”, declared the co-founder of the company, Joel Gibbard. The business is now also working with Disney to create hero ranges for franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel.

 

 

Picture credit: BBC News-Robotic Hand for Amputees wins Dyson Award

 

Many people may be hesitant because of the costs involved. It’s not surprising, really; According to the World Health Organization, 90% of those who need prosthetics do not have access to them, as they are neither affordable nor available. Even low-cost alternatives could be conceived as expensive, especially those in low and middle-income countries. The products Open Bionics are pioneering can hopefully quash financial reservations people may have with choosing prosthetics.  Joel Gibbard stated, “our mission is to create and democratise technology that enhances the human body”.

Engineers in the company have created the Hero Arm as their first innovative offering. Even the way it’s produced has some heroic element to it. It’s cheaper than regular manufacturing and more attainable for the general public, as it can be done in your own home. This more modest approach is known as 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing. The process involves a design being constructed on a computer. Layer by layer, some material is then added to it and the final result is printed out. The Hero Arm is the first 3d printed device to be medically certified.

Enhancing the Human

It’s described to have four motors inside for the purpose of multi-grip. Fine motor coordination is taken into account as each individual finger can be moved, as well as the thumb. So intricate tasks, such as picking up very small objects, shouldn’t pose an issue. One wearer even used his prosthetic to play the piano. It all works through signals. Sensors placed within the socket detect these signals from the user’s muscles. But the experience for the wearer is still governed by their own nervous system. Their movements determine its control; not some external switch or button.

The device is robotic-like and markedly different from the rest of the body. Despite this, the creators behind the Hero Arm fully embrace its difference and believe this is how prosthetics should be, instead of being made to simply blend in. Some old models, although flesh-coloured, appear stiffly lodged in place and therefore not altogether natural. A spokesperson for the company described his own experience of wearing old, false limbs as a stale one. “It didn’t do anything for me, it just made me stick out. I think I just got them because I thought it was the normal thing to do”.

With regular prosthetics, there’s the issue of children outgrowing them as they continually develop. It would only cost more money for parents, to keep buying replacements. The Hero Arm does have some adjustability at least. Within the socket area there’s plenty of space for ease of use and to accommodate development.

So you could say some older prosthetic models serve no other purpose than replacing what is lost. But these bionic creations inspire questions and conversations. You can even personalise them by choosing your own colours. They’re sleek, move in robotic fashion and have flashing lights-perfect for Star Wars fanatics. They bring fantasy to reality for many people.

 

 

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New Technology Improves Relationships between Amputees and Prosthetics

 

Attitudes towards prosthetics can be pretty varied. When I think of an artificial limb, I usually just imagine flesh-coloured plastic and metal. It still allows for physical activity but it’s very basic in appearance. Former marine, Andy Grant, lost his leg while serving in Afghanistan. His relationship with his prosthetic couldn’t be more positive. “If someone offered me my leg back now I wouldn’t take it. I’m the luckiest guy in the world and I get to do amazing challenges”. He runs marathons and triathlons. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. According to a journal, online body image and psychosocial well-being are issues that come into play with amputees.

With new technology, could relationships become even better between amputees and prosthetics? Could improved technology make everyday activities easier?

One of these new technologies is 3D Printing. This is a modernised approach of producing artificial limbs. Having carried out some research on this topic, I’ve been looking at the various benefits. I’ve seen how it’s improved quality of life for amputees. It’s helped restore normality, it’s less time-consuming and more simplistic. Overall, I think it will help many individuals feel they have regained some control after the trauma of losing a limb.

 

 

                     Picture credit: Ottobock UK: Real life stories

                                                                                                                  

 

Many old-school prosthetics are basic in design, mainly comprised of metal rods and wires. Is this interesting for children? An alien object is attached to them and they feel they have to hide it. The basic limb has no personalisation to it. It would look and feel odd, not to mention it would deviate from the inclusivity amputee children should have. A dinosaur or monster arm would be much more appealing. It would feed imagination and kids can proudly show them to friends at school.

3D Printing

This is where 3D Printing, or Additive Manufacturing, can work. The process involves a design from a digital file being broken down into thousands of minuscule pieces. The machine then recreates it layer by layer from the bottom upwards. With this mode of production, there’s free reign for personalisation. Instead of having a limb made in a factory, it can be designed and amended any time in the comfort of your own home. The prosthetic will be entirely unique. The creation is your own from a computer, there for you to modify. If I wanted to make a prosthetic for my niece, for example, I could add spikes or scales to mimic a reptilian creature in her favourite colours. I could even get her involved. A man from Anglesey actually became a hero after utilising 3D Printing to help his son:

Ben Ryan’s son, Sol, was ten days old when he developed a severe blood clot in his arm. There was no choice but to amputate under the elbow. Being under a year old, the NHS was unable to offer a prosthetic for Sol until he was to reach that age. Ben decided to take matters into his own hands and created a bionic arm for his son. He used Xbox accessories and a 3D Printer to do this. The Xbox Kinnect scanner was plugged into the printer. Sol now has a hydraulic arm. The way this works is that rubber sacks filled with water are placed on pressure points over the body. This could be in the shoe for example. Sol can now operate his limb through this pressure. He has total control, he can operate the thumb by grasping because of the water bulb system. It’s now also a plaything for him with a cool, superhero-like appearance. It’s sturdy enough to lean on and survives tantrums.

After turning his creation into a successful business called Ambionics, Ben has explained the awesomeness of 3D Printing. He has stated “Each arm created is customised to the user from a 3D scan of their limb. When making comparisons between 3D Printing and commercialised production, parents can be confident they’re choosing the right method for their children. Ben states “The NHS takes eleven weeks to convert the plaster cast of an arm into a wearable prosthetic. Ambionics can produce one in less than five days.”

 

Ben Ryans 3D Printing Designs of Prosthetic Limbs

 Picture credit: Daily Post: Child’s prosthetic limb 

                                                                                                                     

In the future, 3D prosthetics will be made with multi-materials so natural sockets can better fit with the body. Lightweight titanium is one of them. This will make the limb sturdy and durable. So this would be a great option for any exercise enthusiasts. There could also be an introduction of ‘predictive movement’ with sensors doing the work for the individual.

With the traditional way of making prosthetics, there is the problem of children outgrowing them as they develop. This is costly for parents as they’ll need to keep paying manufacturing costs to keep up. With Ben’s approach, there is a solution to this. He keeps the scans on file ready for replacements, should they be needed. Anyone with access to the same equipment as Ben can also prepare for this issue. I now know that with my Xbox, I have the power to aid the making of a bionic limb. With great power comes great responsibility.

We know the advantages of Additive Manufacturing and why it makes sense. But, there is the cost to think of when owning a machine. You would have to repeatedly buy materials, and it would depend on what they are with some costing more than others. Materials such as carbon fibre mix or conductive filament are expensive. The latter can cost up to £70.00 for a 100g reel. If you’re just aiming for a plastic-producing 3D printer, then this will be irrelevant.

Making Prosthetics Possible

It’s still more inexpensive than a factory-made prosthetic. For the latter, you’d be paying between £5,000 and £50,000. This is not practical for a child amputee. They’ll continue to outgrow artificial limbs. So surely it would make sense to self-print. According to a BBC report, a plastic-producing 3D printer can be yours for a “few hundred pounds”. It’s more of a reality for families at this lower price range. We’re savvy enough with technology to handle this kind of contraption. Installing the facilities in the lounge shouldn’t be a problem. I think opinions on prosthetics can be improved if families know they’re more attainable. They can be in charge of constructing the object from beginning to end.

 

Picture credit: Solopress: Prosthetic handmade of parts printed from a MakerBot 3D printer

 

Referring back to my previous comment on basic prosthetics, I’ve observed designs are becoming increasingly mechanised. The Ottobock Clinic in Minworth, Birmingham creates their artificial limbs with the idea that vigorous exercise is still possible. Gemma is the perfect example of this:

At the age of fourteen, she was involved in a road accident. Her leg was injured as a result. The damage was so severe, she needed an amputation above the knee. She now has a ‘C-Leg’ from the clinic. More than ‘70,000 fittings’ of this type have been carried out. The limb contains sensors which detect insecure positions. Gemma can now use less energy standing up. She can relax with her knee slightly flexed, something that could be more difficult with a traditional, basic model. She can also put weight on it with no worry of discomfort. The object adapts for exercising as well. Gemma explains “My C-Leg enables me to do star jumps, squats and lunges. Plus, I am able to easily play with my son and can flexibly kneel down.”

Some people may argue technology isn’t always reliable. The sensors in the device could stop communicating for instance. If this was to happen the limb would be stripped of its bionic capability. It ceases to be robotic. It just becomes any other prosthetic, with technology dormant in the body. The device could also perceive multiple signals simultaneously and movements could be confused. This would be somewhat frustrating for an amputee.

With the quality of this particular limb, I think it would be very unlikely. The design is highly useful for someone like Gemma, a mother and exercise enthusiast. Her attitude towards it is positive because normality is still possible. She can still kneel down to tie her son’s shoelaces. Workouts can still be done and because of the sensors, can even be enhanced.

It’s clear Sol and Gemma both have good relationships with their prosthetics. They can continue as normal. They both have control and ease of use, which I think is important for any amputee. Sol can operate his limb with the slightest pressure. It’s a toy he can manipulate and a familiar part of his life. Gemma can perform any movement with hers, however strenuous. Technology has created inclusion with more affordable prosthetics. Sometimes we focus on the technology and forget the human impact. Understanding the stories behind the headlines is where enlightenment lies. I look forward to telling more stories of causes and people behind the causes.

Written by: Kate Dodwell

Need help communicating your social issue? At That’s All Media, we help brands, causes and people raise awareness of important social issues by producing high quality visual, written and voice (i.e. podcasts, voice-overs) content creation. We also enjoy social media management and long-term communications projects. For more on this contact jen@thatsallmedia.co.uk.

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Alison Cope: Woman On A Mission

That’s All Media caught up with Alison Cope, the anti-youth violence campaigner. She tells us about her latest mission promoting positive choices – said to be the first of its kind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Credit: Birmingham Mail | Pride of Birmingham 2015: Stephen Sutton Award winner Alison Cope.

 

The inaugural Joshua Ribera Awards will, next month, celebrate inspirational young people who have turned their lives around. Professionals who have supported young people who have triumphed, despite setbacks including those leading complexed lives and excluded from formal education, will also receive awards at the ceremony on the 2nd February, 2018.

 

Design Credit: That’s All Media | The Joshua Ribera Achievement Awards 2018

 

Alison Cope campaigns against knife crime and promotes healthy relationships in communities. Inspired by the memory of her son Joshua, who died under tragic circumstances involving other young people, Alison visits two to five schools per week talking to young people about positive choices and helping to prevent deaths. Since 2013, she has presented and hosted workshops to over 100,000 young people. Her powerful message reaches around two thousand young people per week. The Joshua Ribera Awards are yet another way to highlight the immense potential of the young people she works with.

 

“These awards are a way to reinforce positive messages to the young winners as well as positively influencing their peers. The power of positive recognition in communities is very important and it is my sincere hope that these awards will be a legacy for generations to come.” Alison Cope (Founder of The Joshua Ribera Awards)

 

During the ceremony at Birmingham Conference and Events Centre on February 2nd, 2018, up to 22 awards will be given to young people who have excelled academically or achieved personal development to a commendable level.

 

Alison’s son Joshua, whose memory drives her work, was not in formal education during his teenage years. He did however use positive activities such as music to turn his life around. Joshua’s passion for music saw him become a successful urban music artist. Known by the name ‘DepzMan’, at one point he was the best-selling artist on iTunes. In 2013 his album, 2 Real charted at number 1 on the Hip Hop charts. Alison credits Josh’s achievements to the power of positive relationships with family and caring professionals. She also feels that making positive choices is a big influence on life outcomes.

 

Video Credit: Blue Monday | Alison talks about her son, Joshua, a talented musician who was tragically stabbed to death in 2013.

 

Join That’s All Media in supporting campaigns for social good by following Alison Cope on Twitter, @ali_cope, where you can keep up to date with her cause.

For more information on how That’s All Media can help your campaign, please email hello@thatsallmedia.co.uk

Written by Jenna Varndell.

 

Need help communicating your social issue? At That’s All Media, we help brands, causes and people raise awareness of important social issues by producing high quality visual, written and voice (i.e. podcasts, voice overs) content creation. We also enjoy social media management and long term communications projects. For more info please contact jen@thatsallmedia.co.uk.

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