Design Student Creates Multipurpose 3-D Printed Prosthetic Cover

Traditional prostheses could soon be offered a high-tech upgrade in function thanks to Troy Baverstock, a third year 3-D design student from Griffith University in Southport, Queensland, Australia. Baverstock created the 3-D printed LimbU, a combined aesthetic cover and diagnostic tool offering functional customization, with the goal of making the prosthesis more personal for the user.

“For such an intimate product, the name [LimbU] itself [comprises] the limb and the individual, emphasizing the inseparability of the two,” he told O&P News.

Creating the product brand

LimbU was completed in early 2014 and has been shown in various design and 3-D printing conferences in Australia. In addition to the conferences, it appeared in a couple of art galleries as well as a design event in Philadelphia and a symposium in New Zealand.

Baverstock always had an interest in design, particularly medical design. He said the field of O&P specifically demonstrates a value for design and positively impacts people’s lives.

Troy Baverstock
Troy Baverstock

“While robotic limbs are improving, they are still out of reach for many,” Baverstock said. “I felt there was room to explore traditional prostheses updated for modern-day life.”

Baverstock created the LimbU for a 3-D design course. He said he was inspired by current prosthetic leg cover designs.

“By extension, I questioned whether we could not replace more than a limb’s form and function, asking what more these limbs could do to improve the [life] and experience of the wearer,” he said. “We use a myriad of devices throughout our day, and a prosthetic limb affords a unique opportunity to simplify and enhance that aspect through the integration of such technologies.”

“Troy was quick to understand the potential of 3-D printing in allowing for customization in design for medical applications,” Jennifer Loy, deputy director for the Centre For Creative Arts Research and program leader of industrial design and 3-D design at Griffith University, told O&P News.

“My role has been to teach him to design for the technology, then purely to facilitate the project and encourage him,” she added. “I wrote a special studies course to allow him to develop his ideas and be supervised on that specific project. Troy did all the work and had all the ideas.”

Inspired by life

LimbU’s design was based on architectural components seen on local houses near Baverstock’s home.

The LimbU connects to smartphones via bluetooth for diagnostic use.
The LimbU connects to smartphones via bluetooth for diagnostic use.

Images: Baverstock T.

The LimbU includes a built-in phone charger for on-the-go wearers.
The LimbU includes a built-in phone charger for on-the-go wearers.

“The branched design was inspired by one of my partner’s drawings, while the twisted hexagonal pattern I created for a more masculine appeal,” he said.

LimbU offers a personal activity tracker, audio system, phone charger and medical diagnostic tool. The device utilizes “smart electronics” that connect to a smartphone using Bluetooth technology, which then displays the number of steps the wearer takes in a day, along with the speed and intensity of the steps. It also can monitor altitude, direction with GPS coordinates, temperature and humidity.

LimbU can assist rehabilitation by tracking a limb’s orientation and movement through motion sensors, which prevent issues with fit, recovery and a wearer’s adaptation to the prosthetic limb.

“The interchangeable covers and user-controlled lighting allow for unique ways to express one’s identity based on mood, style or occasion,” Baverstock added.

Baverstock had a few personal requirements when he designed LimbU, based on needs he has experienced that he believes are common. For example, Baverstock added a built-in phone charger because as a student who commutes to school, he frequently needs to charge his phone on the go.

“Likewise the built-in speakers reflect my passion for audiobooks which often finds me carrying around a portable speaker or earphones while I work or drive,” Baverstock said. “Along with my activity tracker that often lies forgotten at home, these devices are both a blessing and a burden, one which need not be for wearers of LimbU.”

Printer challenges

During the process of creating LimbU, Baverstock faced challenges, varying from the 3-D modeling process to working with the 3-D printer and meeting deadlines. Additional difficulty was added with smartphone and tablet applications. Baverstock faced his many obstacles with his programming collaborator, Raymond Crowther, former student from Griffith University, who assisted in the application and the electronics programming portion of the project.

“LimbU was one of five design projects over those 3 months, and it was challenging to find the right balance between them, but ultimately, very satisfying,” Baverstock said.

Future plans

While Baverstock is still refining his invention, he hopes LimbU will be available for purchase.

Jennifer Loy
Jennifer Loy

Loy said she would like to fund Baverstock as a research assistant, so he can develop LimbU and put his concept into practice. She is currently exploring opportunities to fund this.

Baverstock said a future goal for LimbU is to refine and simplify his initial concept, and to explore the practicality of a “do-it yourself” version made at home that could possibly be built and printed by anyone.

“As for my own plans, I will continue to follow my passions in design and hope the things I make can bring some joy to others as they have to my life,” he said. – by Monica Jaramillo

Disclosures: Baverstock and Loy report no relevant financial disclosures.

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