Researchers at Virginia Tech have developed a 3D-printed prosthetic device with integrated electronic sensors to assess pressure distribution between a limb and the device itself. The sensors provide data that help the researchers to improve the device for added comfort and functionality. Their approach may lead to more affordable and effective custom prostheses.
3D printing is providing people who are missing limbs the opportunity to print their own prosthetic devices using open source plans. This approach could lead to cheaper and more readily accessible devices. However, making sure that every device fits perfectly and correctly contacts soft tissue is key to maximizing comfort and functionality.
Current 3D-printed prosthetic devices lack the advanced electronic capabilities of more expensive devices, making it difficult to assess whether they are providing optimal contact with a user’s limb. For instance, a device may apply pressure to a limb differently when the limb is relaxed or when it is flexed.
To address this, Virginia Tech researchers have developed a method to incorporate electronic sensors into 3D printed prostheses to measure the pressure distribution of the device against the skin. The research team used 3D scanning data of a limb to integrate the sensors at the interface between the tissue and the device. They printed the device using conformal 3D printing, which allows material to be deposited onto curved surfaces.
Using the pressure distribution data as a guide, the researchers improved a personalized prosthetic hand and increased tissue contact with the limb to which it was attached, which the user reported to be more comfortable. 3D printing allows for numerous iterations of the device to be fabricated relatively easily, rapidly and cheaply, making it the perfect technique to allow for progressive device optimization.
“Personalizing and modifying the properties and functionalities of wearable system interfaces using 3D scanning and 3D printing opens the door to the design and manufacture of new technologies for human assistance and health care as well as examining fundamental questions associated with the function and comfort of wearable systems,” said Blake Johnson, a researcher involved in the study.
Study in PLOS One: Low-cost sensor-integrated 3D-printed personalized prosthetic hands for children with amniotic band syndrome: A case study in sensing pressure distribution on an anatomical human-machine interface (AHMI) using 3D-printed conformal electrode arrays…
Via: Virginia Tech…