3d Printing has been revolutionary in many ways, but one thing that’s very close to my heart is the way it has changed the lives of amputees all around the globe. Until now amputees specially from the developing countries had almost no access to prosthetics as they were considered to be an expensive option, but with the development and easy accessibility to 3D printers has really made a big impact on the these lives. Taking the prosthetic revolution to the next stage is the researchers at MIT’s biomechatronics department who have developed a non-invasive device that scans the amputee’s softer and harder muscles or nerves which can be then used to make comfortable fitting sockets that the prosthetics fit on.
PhD candidate Arthur Petron designed the torture devices looking tool (it’s actually pretty harmless) and is called FitSocket. Mr. Petron explained that the traditional sockets which are used to attach the prosthesis to the amputated limb are usually hand made with the help of a plaster mold to measure the end of the patient’s limb. Most prosthetists make these molds in such a way that the socket makes minimal contact with the hardest parts of the limb in order to decrease stress and discomfort. The idea is to not hurt the patient and increase his comfort, however that’s not actually what happens. The extra dependency on the softer parts of the limbs to bear weight of the patient causes more discomfort to the patient.
FitSocket on the other hand uses advanced robotics’ to digitally capture the biomechanical stiffness of the affected limb. This data captures by FitSocket is then converted into the 3D printed models so that the actual prosthetic distribute the body weight of the person across the entire surface of the limb. This different approach to make sockets has already being tested on patients who explained the whole experience as “walking on pillows.”
Chris Ahern, one of the test patients who tried sockets made with the help of FitSocket gave a big thumps up the whole system and explained his dilemma with the older socket he used “every single socket I’ve had, I’ve always had to work out the kinks. I’ve had this socket for a year and a half, and I’m still having problems with it.”
MIT has uploaded a video which shows FitSocket in action, the device shows that the device has 14 extendable indenters gently press down on his leg and measures the force it takes to push the tissue at each point. The process is repeated over 100 times to get most accurate data possible. Once the measurement is done the data is sent to the 3D printers at MIT which 3D prints the socket using the variable degrees of hardness.
According to the researchers working with FitSocket the device can be modified to make customized shoes, backpacks or seats for high-end vehicles.Arthur Petron explained “We’re treating the body as a mechanical thing, because it is. I want to understand the biomechanical properties of the tissue.”