3D-Printed Covers Bring a Stylish Touch to Prosthetic Limbs
“The conversation changes. It’s no longer about ‘what happened.’ It now starts with ‘Wow, that’s cool!’”
The personalization options for prosthetic limbs have always been lacking. But with advances in prosthetic technology (especially with sensors and robotics) have come advances in outfitting artificial limbs with a huge range of personalized designs. Over the last few years companies like the Alternative Limb Project and Bespoke Innovations have begun offering individualized prosthetic designs. But new player Unyq is combining these aesthetic possibilities with the technology of 3D printing.
Founded in 2014, Unyq just released a new line of 3D-printed prosthetic arm covers for both above and below the elbow. Manuel Boza, Unyq’s chief creative officer and an engineer by trade, co-founded the company with CEO Eythor Bender after growing frustrated with the personalization options available to him and other amputees.
“Manuel started exploring ideas for prosthetic covers several years ago,” Bender tells GOOD. “At the same time, 3D printing was becoming an easier technology to work with, [so] he started developing 3D-printed stylish covers.”
Bender, who has spent the last 20 years working in the prosthetics, orthotics, and bionics industry, has led several prosthetics companies, including Ossur and Ekso Bionics. “[I] have always felt that despite amazing technological advances, the prosthetics industry has failed to ‘complete the job’ by providing amputees choice in how their prosthesis appears,” Bender says.
Unyq’s line of 3D-printed covers features six designs for arms, each with six color options. The website shows off the designs and colors in various indoor and outdoor environments, so people can get an idea of how they look and function.
“Our awesome design team dreams up our new designs,” Bender says. “They are inspired by modern design, space, the future, and geometric shapes. Many amputees have told us that they like designs with negative space so that the covers and the prosthesis are visible and combine to create something new.”
Because Unyq’s products are 3D-printed, Bender says that each cover is unique—tailored not just to the person’s prosthetic components but also to their specific anatomy. The only requirement for clients is that they send photos and measurements of their prosthetic.
“With our leg covers, amputees will look down and, for the first time since amputation, and see the shape of their leg—it’s powerful,” he says. “The covers also give people confidence. Not because they are ashamed to be an amputee, but because the cover often means that others look on them with interest instead of pity. They say the conversation changes. It’s no longer about ‘what happened.’ It now starts with ‘Wow, that’s cool!’”
Amputees who buy the personalized, aesthetic covers can receive full or partial reimbursement from organizations like the Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, workers compensation programs, and private insurance companies. Bender says the process of dealing with the medical establishment has been smooth so far, and his company is working very closely with the prosthetic teams at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center, as well as Veterans Administration facilities across the country.
But Unyq isn’t content with its progress. For those individuals with scoliosis, which causes a major curvature in the spine, the company will start 3D printing personalized braces. They believe the braces will improve patients’ experiences and make them more willing to wear a brace.
“We have R&D projects across prosthetics and orthotics and plan to integrate data tracking into our products as we evolve,” Bender says. “We are also finalizing our iPhone app, which guides clinicians through the process of taking the photos and measurements we need to create a personalized cover (to be released in the Apple App Store this month).”
Click here to see Unyq’s lookbook.