3D printing may take bionic limbs from clunky and expensive to accessible and affordable.
An early version of Lennox's arm. Photo via Build It Workspace
Seven-year-old Faith Lennox’s favorite colors are blue, purple, and pink—the same colors used to design her 3D-printed prosthetic arm, hand, and fingers that her parents purchased for a mere $50.
During birth, Lennox’s circulation was cut off from reaching her left forearm, and doctors were forced to amputate just below the elbow when she was just nine months. While her parents were able to equip their daughter with an electronic hand when she was three, she quickly outgrew it by the age of five. But due to complications with insurance and coverage, procuring new prosthetics for Faith was a challenge. Prosthetic limbs can cost anywhere from $5,000 to more than $50,000 for a leg, and $3,000 to upwards of $30,000 for an arm, though pricing varies greatly depending on size, level of amputation, desired capabilities, and more.
But thanks to the strides being made in the field of 3D printing, prosthetic limbs can now be produced at a much cheaper price using the same materials used to print drones and automobiles. They are also lightweight, weighing in at around a pound, allowing children to wield them with relative ease. As children grow, a new, larger set can be printed to accommodate.
Photo by Los Angeles New Group
The Lennoxes were able to print a hand for Faith through a joint effort with Build It Workspace—a DIY 3D printing business—and e-NABLE—a nonprofit group that provides open-source material for children who need prosthetics. And although Faith had adapted well to living without a left arm, tying her own shoes and even braiding her own hair, her multicolored arm provides a helpful boinic boost for greater freedom in her everyday life, allowing her to ride a bicycle and hold down paper as she writes and draws.