Is the price of prosthetics about to plummet? Could be…
Technology is an amazing game-changer, and it seems that it offers us something new on a daily basis, whether it’s a new gadget to make life a little more convenient or luxurious, or a major breakthrough in medical science that cures a disease or makes it easier for a person with a disability to get through daily life. Prosthetics and bionics technology, in particular, seem to be progressing at lightning speed, with some researchers claiming that we’re one step away from adding tactile sensation to bionic limbs.
The biggest problem with technology, however, is the cost. Whenever a new breakthrough happens, it seems that the cost is unmanageable for the average person. This is especially true with prosthetic limbs, which often top $40,000 in cost, far above the means of a person whose disability may have cost them their livelihood.
Now, however, a group of volunteers called e-NABLE is leveraging another technological breakthrough to provide prosthetics for people in need for free. The technology is 3D printing, which has been a tremendous asset to the world of technology. It began when one of the volunteers, Jeremy Simon, decided to see if it was possible to build a mechanical hand with a 3D printer for $50. When he fitted the device to 53-year-old Jose Delgado, Jr., who was born without most of his left hand and has used a prosthetic for much of his life, Simon was amazed at the results.
“Certainly we’re not making an apples-to-apples comparison,” he says. “These are entirely different kinds of devices. But the comparison I was trying to draw with Jose was strictly in terms of day-to-day functionality—what’s more useful? It turned out [the $50] one was.”
Delgado tested the new hand and felt that the grip made it far more functional than his $42,000 prosthetic limb, which can be seen on the table in the above photo. “It’s useful for carrying boxes,” Delgado said. “These have more grip and won’t let go of much.”
Simon gives all the credit for the design to e-NABLE. “We’re talking about 3D designers, university professors, occupational therapists, medical professionals, all sorts of people in this community, and they all give completely freely of their time and efforts. As long as there’s still people willing to do this kind of work, the technology is going to continue to get more accessible and more affordable.”
For people like Delgado who rely upon prosthetic limbs for day-to-day life, this is outstanding news. After all, who in need wouldn’t love a stable and functional prosthesis for less than $100? See how the budget-friendly prosthetic hand works for Jose Delgado in the video. Where do you see 3D technology going in the coming years?