Design Museum Awards Nominee
2013: 3D Printed Exoskeleton

The Design Museum in London has released its list of the Designs of the Year for their 2013 awards. The nominations include the most innovative and forward-looking design from around the world, falling into seven categories: architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport. A winner from each category is selected by an international jury and an overall winner from the category winners is awarded the Design of the Year.

One nomination that caught our eye is the 3D Printed Exoskeleton ‘Magic Arms’, which is designed at the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, in Wilmington, Delaware.

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Emma Lavelle was born with a genetic condition that causes joints and muscles to be stiff and nearly useless. By the age of two she could move around without a walker, but her arms still hung by her sides, too stiff and weak for her to use.

At this time Emma’s mother saw a presentation of the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) being used by an older patient with the same condition and she immediately approached their doctor and asked if it could be used on her daughter Emma. However, the device wasn’t made for someone so small.

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The developers of the WREX system, from Nemours Hospital, had worked for years to make the device progressively smaller, serving younger and younger patients. Attached to a wheelchair, the WREX worked for kids as young as six. But Emma was two, small for her age, and able to walk. For Emma to wear the device outside the hospital workshop, the developers Rahman and Sample needed to scale it down in size and weight. They had a Stratasys 3D Printer, which can build complex objects automatically from computer designs and so they 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.

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The 3D-printed WREX turned out to be strong 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. Here’s a video, made by Stratasys, the company that prints the WREX device, of Emma using her exoskeleton: