Novel Design Innovation Transforms Prostheses Into Works of Art

High school seniors Ziyuan Liu and Cassee Cain won the team category in
the 2011 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology for their
bioengineering project, “Using Kinect for Xbox 360 and Computer Vision to
Analyze Human

Cassee Cain and Ziyuan Liu, 2011 Siemens Comp. Team Winner with big check.
Cassee Cain and Ziyuan Liu, 2011
Siemens Comp. Team Winner with big check.
Image: Siemens Foundation

Liu and Cain, both from Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., used
gaming technology to analyze human walking patterns.
According to a Siemens Foundation press release, their work is an innovative
use of video game technology that could aid in the treatment of leg injuries,
joint replacements and amputations and contribute to prosthetic design.

“This team’s project involved the creative reuse of new gaming
technology — the Kinect sensor — with advanced computer vision
algorithms,” stated competition judge Sudeep Sarkar, professor of computer
science and engineering, University of South Florida. “When further
developed, their system could open avenues to bring personalized rehabilitation
years from obtrusive to relatively sleek designs, traditionally, the O&P
profession has favored function over aesthetics. For most practitioners,
watching their transfemoral patient walk out of the office without a noticeable
limp or debilitating socket wounds is the real work of art.

Scott Summit, chief technology officer and co-founder of Bespoke
Innovations, believes aesthetics and function are one and the same. If a
patient only wears pants to hide their
prosthesis, their device is not functioning properly, even if
it fits to perfection.

“I equate it to fashion eyewear,” Summit told O&P
Business News
. “When you look at someone with really fashionable
eyeglasses, you don’t think ‘That person does not have 20/20
vision.’ You don’t think of someone as less than perfect, you see a
beautiful aspect of them. Why can’t a prosthesis be treated like

Summit’s goal is to capture the beauty of the human body by
recreating symmetry for the patient using
3-D scan, design and print technology.

Individually designed fairings allow amputees to be creative.
Individually designed fairings
allow amputees to be creative.
Images: Scott Summit

“Symmetry is fundamental in the ways in which a body is formed and
contoured,” he said. “Creating symmetry drives the rest of the

Summit uses 3-D
scanners to capture the leg shape on the prosthetic side and
normal side. According to Summit, bilateral amputees can find a stand-in who is
approximately their preferred shape. After the scan, the user chooses from a
wide range of templates for their fairing style. Prosthetic limb fairings
surround an existing prosthetic leg, accurately recreating the
individual’s personal body form. The user explores and chooses from a
range of materials, finishes, patterns and graphics. Summit and his art team
meet with the individual to discuss potential finishings, sculpted features
and/or custom artwork designs for the fairings. The goal is to showcase the
patient’s individuality and personality.

“We spend quite a bit of time talking to the person to find out
what excites them and what their passions really are,” Summit said.
“Typically, people do not know what they want right away, but we leave
that open as the process develops.”

Summit has worked with individuals who send him images of full patterns
that they found online. He also had a patient who wanted the fairings to look
as if it belonged on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Another patient wanted his
design to have the same features as his Volkswagen GTI.

“We are trying to capture the aspects of the person that set them
apart from the rest. It should be a design that enhances the patient.”

After the user chooses a design, 3-D printing technology builds the
fairing based on the unique shape of the user’s body. Another design
consideration is how and when the user intends to wear the prosthesis. If worn
during sports or physical activities, for example, a lighter material may be

“3-D printing is a different process from anything traditionally
done in O&P,” Summit said. “This is not creating a mold or a
machine built prosthesis. 3-D printing is a counterpoint to those two —
somewhere in the middle. The technology lends itself to custom

Fairing designs can be light or durable to handle more physical demands.
Fairing designs can be light or
durable to handle more physical demands.

The ideal customer is someone in their 20s and 30s because they are
engaged with their look and have a distinct eye for fashion, according to
Summit. But most individuals in their mid-20s lack the disposable income to
purchase prosthetic limb fairings. The basic unit starts at $4,000, but
depending on the complexity, the cost could rise up to $6,000. The VA does
cover prosthetic limb fairings, so Summit routinely works with soldiers who
were wounded in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“If someone tells us in advance, we can design it to be extra
strong,” Summit said. “We usually try to keep it as light as
possible, but for a soldier, we just know it has to be durable.”

Summit is currently working with triathlete Sarah Reinertsen on a
design, but when asked if one user’s design stands out from all the rest,
he failed to pick just one.

“Everyone stands out in their own unique way,” Summit said.
“People come to us because they are characters to start with. We work with
people who have big personalities and they enjoy working with us because they
want to do something special for themselves.” — by Anthony

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