3D printed exoskeleton helps this little girl develop more normal body function

This 2-year-old girl has a condition called arthrogryposis which causes her not to be able to move her arms. But with a little help, her muscles can be strengthened to achieve more normal use of her limbs. This is not the first time that an exoskeleton has been used, but the advent of 3D printed parts makes the skeleton work much better.

Previous exoskeletons were made of metal and were quite heavy. When you’re talking about a 25 pound child every extra ounce counts. Moving to plastic parts lightened the load. Now the structure can be mounted on her torso, using rubber bands to aid her movement until her muscles are strong enough to do it on their own.

Of course to [Emma] this isn’t an exoskeleton. It’s her set of magic arms.

[Thanks Luke]


  1. VooDude says:

    Good job! Whoever made these “arms” gave Emma one very special gift.

    And I just want to say: 3D Printing – Saving the World One Piece at a Time

  2. Montaray Jack says:

    Not exactly the first of the plastic ones, One of my coworkers at RIC machined a WREX out of delerin back in 2003 or 04. Earlier iterations of the design had the bungie cord springs inclosed to prevent any possible pinching. Lots of wasted mass for no real gain. The aluminum ones were very heavy. I spent a lot of time making up bungie springs for the thing. The ambidextrous sholder blade section I made worked out nicely mounted to the chair we were using. (ours was not for a prosthetic)

    We had it a little easier, working with adults.

    Bearings on the sholder and elbows were a problem, I kept blowing them out before I even got to really test it. I thought a change to timkins would be worth the added mass and volume. Somewhere I have a redesign of the elbow that I never got around to making.

    A bunch of fun ensued when we realized that aluminum is paramagnetic and interfered with the Flock of Birds sensors we were going to use, a slight movement and the wrist was spewing out numbers from across the other side of room.

    I think Lenny’s vision for the thing had it connected to a virtual reality game which was going to be displayed on EVL’s PARIS display. Making a game out of physical therapy for hemiparetic stroke

  3. AIf says:

    I don’t like where this is going. What’s next? Deus Ex-like augmentations?
    Sometimes people should be allowed to suffer so that genetic pool is not polluted.

    • John says:

      Ah, the stupid people method of human improvement. Instead of, yaknow, fixing the damn problem.

      • Montaray Jack says:

        The rational we used for stroke rehabilitation was that the muscles atrophied during the time that the brain couldn’t send the correct signals. Repetitive training might allow neuroplasticity to rewire enough of the brains neural net to allow improvement, a prosthesis like this would supplement the muscles, thus allowing movement where it was not possible before.

        I don’t know how the experiment turned out long term. Look for a dissertation by Lennie Kahn if you’re really curious.

    • Fetret says:

      I really really really hope you are joking or are at least sarcastic, but if you’re not, please do not procreate, as you said there is no need for genetic pollution.

    • ldj says:

      Nobody’s forcing you to have children with them

    • Tron9000 says:

      How’d you Emma won’t go on to help develop this technolgy, develop a cure for cancer, be the first disabled astronaut, or engineer the first gravity drive?

      so by that statement you reckon Stephen Hawking should still be locked away in some hospital somewhere?

      If that was my kid, I’d be doing exactly the same!

      Grade-A Moron!

    • Tron9000 says:

      Least when they make bigger, more industrial versions of this, she can write the user guide!

    • Khai says:

      so, you’ll be refusing any medical treatment then, for you or any children you may have?

    • n0lkk says:

      With no indication that the comment was intended as tongue in cheek, other than it’s nonsense, I’m taking it at face value. We have to keep in mind by aiding children as Emma to live productive lives, one of them may find a way to resolve your problem, a problem shared by many. A problem if it can be remedied, would do much more to save the gene pool than denying Emma.

    • nikescar1 says:

      Alf, put a gun in your mouth so we can get started removing the pollutants from the genetic pool. I just hope you haven’t procreated yet.

    • Montaray Jack says:

      When Doctor Magnuson founded the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in 1954, it was common practice to keep quadriplegics in infirmaries in beds of sawdust, (boxes really) for the remainder of their lives. Must have been such a delightful place to be or work.

      Want to reserve a box, Alf?

    • Jaybee says:

      ” What’s next? Deus Ex-like augmentations?”
      Boy, I sure hope so!

      Seriously, the gene pool is already soiled beyond belief. Medicine short-circuited evolution quite a long time ago.

      Should we go ahead and stop vaccines and antibiotics so that we will quit weakening the populace by allowing the weak to prosper? Maybe quit sanitizing the water supply while we’re at it?
      How about corrective lenses for people with impaired vision? If they can’t see well enough to function, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to function anyways, right?

      Plastic exoskeletons are the least of your worries in this issue.

      Also, most cases of this condition are not genetically-linked(if Wikipedia can be believed), so your concern about the chlorine in the gene pool is unfounded anyways.

  4. Janez says:

    This is best hack on hackaday.com ever. EVER.

    • JB says:

      Agree. Awesome application for a 3D printer. I think the doctor is limiting his vision on this though… 3D printing is not just the future of medicine, but all fields. Available custom parts on demand.

  5. Mark Atwood says:

    The next step will be the FDA banning the 3D printing of such items, or the sharing of the 3D print files for such items, by calling it a “medical device”.

    • Wm_Atl says:

      Dang Mark your right. All it would is a brace manufacture to run crying to the FDA and they would happily swoop in and prohibit this. And, that would be really sad. Innovation is very important to pushing treatments into the modern era. But Govt can easily stop innovation with regulations.
      And for the one troll that would withhold medical treatment and “let them suffer”. Go back to the lonely planet you came from. If that video did not choke you up you are not human.

    • n0lkk says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb & say that’s not likely to happen. From what I can readily discover on WREX readily, the brace& limb sector will be manufacturing the devices. That would mean they would own any files they create to 3D print custom or standardized components they create themselves. They don’t have to share, so why would they go to the FDA?

      • DarwinSurvivor says:

        I don’t think Mark Atwood was talking about them trying to protect their Intellectual Property. He was implying that they will try to make it so only “Medically Licensed Corporations” will be allowed to make them (just like you aren’t allowed to make Morphine at home even though the chemical make-up is publicly available).

    • tjb says:

      If my child needed some thing like this or any other brace I would take any “problems” the FDA gave me as high in court as I could. All it would take is a video going viral to load up the court room. BTW I have been learning to modify shoes for my wife since she can not buy shoes that fit and the last cobbler who did a good job died of cancer.

      From my own experience I find that once these kinds of medical devices become a commodity you can no longer rely on the companies for repetitive mods or the insurance to pay for them. Insurance will cut any recommended adjustments in 1/2.

      Given all of that the real win here is that a doctor can now draw something up and have it printed with out needed a whole shop full of machine tools and operators to make it happen. This should bring the cost down over all.

  6. nukky says:

    This is the greatest demonstration I’ve seen of the advantages of rapid-prototype 3D printing. Fantastic!

  7. n0lkk says:

    Far out, this can help out Emma and so many others so much.

  8. Hirudinea says:

    And as she grows she can get new exoskeleton parts quickly and properly sized.

  9. Galane says:

    She’s in training for battling Alien queens with a power loader suit. ;)

  10. Jaybee says:

    That is the most adorable cyborg.

  11. Bill Gander says:

    MOAR of these hacks please HaD! Best of luck, Emma :)

  12. Augur says:

    Alf… People like you give the human race a bad name.. Please go live in a hole somewhere… without internet access…

    She is adorable, I’m glad there is technology being created that can help her!

  13. Destate9 says:

    The Exoskeleton rule. Much like the Crossbow rule (not every badass is a crossbow owner, but every crossbow owner is a badass), anything involving a human exoskeleton is awesome

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