A robotic exoskeleton downsized for a little girl has been printed out using a Stratasys 3D Printer. Although these printers are used primarily for rapid prototyping, the ABS plastic exoskeleton is turning out to be tough enough for daily use.
(WREX 3D printed exoskeleton video)
The moment Megan Lavelle saw the device, she knew it would change her daughter’s life. Lavelle is an energetic, unstoppable mom whose youngest daughter, Emma, was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC). At a Philadelphia conference for AMC families, Lavelle learned about the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX), an assistive device made of hinged metal bars and resistance bands. It enables kids with underdeveloped arms to play, feed themselves and hug...
For Emma to wear the WREX outside the workshop, Rahman and Sample needed to scale it down in size and weight. The parts would be too small and detailed for the workshop’s CNC system to fabricate. But humming along near Sample’s desk was a Stratasys 3D Printer, which can build complex objects automatically from computer designs — like an inkjet printer but in three dimensions. Sample often used it to work out ideas with physical models, so he 3D printed a prototype WREX in ABS plastic. The difference in weight allowed Sample to attach the Emma-sized WREX to a little plastic vest.
The 3D-printed WREX turned out to be durable enough for everyday use. Emma wears it at home, at preschool, and during occupational therapy. And the design flexibility of 3D printing lets Sample continually improve upon the assistive device, working out ideas in CAD and building them the same day.
Fifteen children now use custom 3D-printed WREX devices.
The exoskeleton idea has a long lineage in science fiction; take a look at the titanium exoskeleton from Fritz Leiber's 1968 novel A Specter is Haunting Texas to see a fully-realized description.
I can't resist a reference to Philip K. Dick's Biltong life forms from his 1956 story Pay for the Printer, which are a remarkable intellectual predecessor to the idea of printing copies of complex physical objects.