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Pimp My Prosthetic

Mon, 07/09/2012 - 11:54am
Meaghan Ziemba, Associate Editor, PD&D

Bespoke Innovations uses 3D scanning to capture and accurately recreate the unique contours and shapes of the body to produce a custom form that changes the way the world views prosthetics.

The client, an avid athlete, hoped to have ‘speed’ designed into the fairing. (Photo Courtesy: Steve Dugan)

While teaching at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg, PA, Scott Summit, co-founder and chief technology officer of Bespoke Innovations, had some ideas he wanted to explore, so he burned his savings on prototypes and patents to test his concepts.

His main goal during that time was to see if he could go to a third world country with nothing more than a camera and laptop computer, and see if he could 3D scan an amputee, run that scanned data through a 3D parametric computer model, and generate something that could be 3D printed and suffice as a high-quality prosthetic limb.

 “My thinking was to ideally offer a digital solution that would be very scalable to provide a very high-quality solution for people throughout the rest of the world,” says Summit. “However, this was tricky at that time because there was no way to scan somebody with a camera, and the 3D printing industry wasn’t up to par.”

Summit continues to work on this particular project during his free time, waiting for more advances in the available technology that will help it become successful, but has moved on to create other medical applications that will help solve various musculo skeletal problems that no one else has thought to implement.  

“We want to reach a point where a doctor, anywhere in the world, will be able to fix a complex medical problem with nothing more than an iPad,” says Summit. “From this basic premise that the company was started on almost 4 years ago, we have been able to expand further into the external muscle skeletal area.”

Looking Beyond the Mechanical Components

Summit’s experience is in industrial design, which he explains as having one foot in engineering and the other in the arts. “My inspiration comes from looking at existing prosthetics that are out there, and thinking to myself how they look like a half-finished project,” says Summit. “It was like someone put their toe in the water, but really didn’t dive in.

White leather was adhered to the front fairing, while the back part suggests fishnet. The client now purchases clothes to match her fairings. (Photo Courtesy: Steve Dugan)

Summit and his team at Bespoke Innovations in San Francisco, CA came up with a solution to address the challenges that current prosthetic limbs present. “The artistry, emotional components, and sculpture of the human body are not reflected in the current prosthetic limbs available. Only the pure mechanical components are,” explains Summit.

Bespoke wanted to add a degree of personalization, individuality, and artistry to current prosthetic limbs so that they could bring more humanity to people who have congenital or traumatic limb loss. The company’s mission is to enable clients to emotionally connect with their prosthetic limbs, and wear them confidently as a form of personal expression.

Personal & Individual Expression

Bespoke fairings are specialized coverings that surround existing prosthetic limbs, accurately recreating the body form through a process that uses 3D scanning to capture its unique contours. They return the lost curves and invite an expression of personality and individuality by infusing an individual’s lifestyle and taste from the start. By creating a unique custom form that represents the individual, the company hopes to change the way the world thinks of prostheses.

The two main materials that are used to create the fairings are polyamide and photopolymer. The polyamide is used in a powder-based, 3D printing machine, while the photopolymer is used in a liquid-based one. “The liquid-based machine is used for the parts that we coat in metal,” explains Summit. “And all the other parts, which include the black and white parts, are printed from the powder-based machines.”

Weight of the fairings depends entirely on size, shape, and pattern. A standard fairing weighs around 6.6 ounces (about the weight of an iPhone). Leather can add anywhere between 3 to 5 ounces, and metal can add up to a total of 18 ounces.

The metal fairings available are created through a layered process of copper and nickel, which gives them their strength and a finish that is akin to jewelry. Clients have the option to choose from a variety of hues and designs that apply more to their personality and everyday lives. “We want to make sure we are working with hues compatible with the body, so that we’re not just addressing the medical need, but concentrating on the human needs as well” says Summit.

Fairings can be enhanced with patterns, graphics, and materials. (Photo Courtesy: James Cassimus)

Tailoring the Design to Customer Needs

Bespoke invites clients to participate in the design process very early on, and speaks to each individual extensively as the process goes on. Fairings can be enhanced with patterns, graphics, and materials — including leather, ballistic nylon fabric, chrome plating, and even tattoos.

“If something is going to see a lot of abuse from an athlete or soldier, then we make sure to really overbuild it so it can survive. The downside of this is the added weight” says Summit. “If somebody just wants to wear one for more a fashion purpose, then we attempt to give them something that weighs less.”

Bespoke tailors the design and materials of each fairing to their customers’ needs in terms of style, weight, and appearance. “In order to recreate the symmetry in the body, we have to three-dimensionally scan the customer and then three-dimensionally print that data.”

Groundbreaking CAD Technology

Bespoke uses 123D Catch, Autodesk’s free 3D modeling software program, to upload photographs of the areas on their clients that need to be fitted for a fairing and turn it into a 3D digital model. “We’ve used every type of three-dimensional scanner that exists, and they are all so difficult, complex, cumbersome, and expensive,” says Summit. “With 123D Catch, everything suddenly became very easy and convenient – and also a lot cheaper.”

Before 123D Catch, a million dollar scanner was required at a rate of $1,000 per scan, which took weeks to be processed. “We went from a million dollar scanner to a free scanner that can be done spontaneously in five minutes with the nearest iPhone available,” says Summit.  

Bespoke also uses a number of parametric modeling applications, along with 3ds Max and a number of other CAD applications depending on the specific needs of the clients. “We use Geomagic 3D imaging to assemble all of the scan data that we collect,” says Summit.

A New Kind of Consumer Behavior

Mass customization is a new idea that comes with a lot of complex challenges due to the lack of rules. “Consumers are used to going to stores and having limited choices,” says Summit. “With Bespoke, they have an infinite number of choices. This can work towards our disadvantage because there is either a reversion to the mean, because customers are overwhelmed by choice, or they just don’t understand and they back down.”

The design process is abstract until the product ends up in the customers’ hands. “We have to continually communicate with the customer so we can get their approval throughout the process before spending any money,” says Summit. “We are trying to introduce a new type of consumer behavior without them realizing that we are introducing this new type of interaction.” 

Bespoke meets their clients in person to scan the areas to be fitted for the fairings. From there they complete some preliminary designs with a combination of 3ds Max or SketchBook Pro. The sketches are then shown to the customers, and there is a back and forth until a final design can be agreed upon. “When the clients reach the point where they can commit to a design, then we do all the final engineering, and send it out to be fabricated,” says Summit.

A basic fairing is set at $4,000, while a leather or chrome one can cost up to $6,000. Currently, the fairings are not covered by insurance, but Bespoke hopes to work with select prosthetists that would be able to bill for fairings within their insurance networks.


For more information visit www.bespokeinnovations.com.

This article first appeared in the June 2012 edition of PD&D’s Medical Supplement. To view the issue, click http://bit.ly/LUETWv.  

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