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'Magic arms' 3D printed exoskeleton nominated for design award

Posting in Architecture

We saw Ekso Bionics' exoskeleton hit the market last year with the intention of eventually replacing wheelchairs, but for those with little strength to spare like Emma Lavelle, mobility can still be an issue when you don't have the strength to operate machines.

There are a number of devices to help those suffering with mobility issues on the market, but few that are designed specifically for children with tiny limbs -- and even fewer if the child is uncharacteristically weak.

As SmartPlanet's Rose Eveleth previously reported, Emma Lavelle was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), a genetic condition that causes joints and muscles to stiffen and eventually be rendered useless.

Her arms were the main issue, which were too stiff and undeveloped for her to use -- and for a young child, not being able to play or participate in many activities is frustrating. However, as her arms were so weak and she was only two, other options available were too heavy or big for her.

Eventually, Emma's mother approached the makers of the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), which was then customized especially for her, made smaller and each component was printed out of plastic rather than made from traditional, heavier materials which would be too much for the girl to cope with.

It worked, and this success story has now resulted in the "magic arms" 3D-printed WREX exoskeleton being nominated for the Designs of the Year 2013 awards by London's Design Museum.

Spanning seven categories -- architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, transport and product -- if the exoskeleton design wins, this may further more interest and development not only in the 3D printing sphere, but prompt more research in how this type of printing can be used in healthcare.

"This is an exciting time for 3D printing, as more people become aware of its potential and its impact," said Stratasys Executive VP of Global Marketing, Jon Cobb. "We are honored to have been involved in such a worthwhile project and pleased to see it recognized by the design community."

The winner will be announced on 17th April 2013.

The offering from Stratasys is not the only example of 3D printable and exoskeleton developments currently taking place. In Japan, an exoskeleton has been developed by University of Tsukuba spin-off company Cyberdyne that can reduce radiation exposure by up to 50 percent. In addition, NASA has developed the X1 robotic exoskeleton, which can be used to prevent astronauts in zero gravity from suffering due to acute muscle atrophy.

Image credit: Stratasys

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— By on January 24, 2013, 9:26 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure