Arming the World

$500 prosthetic limbs now 3D-printed

For the average citizen, prosthetic arms are the stuff of science fiction. High-tech, but with a price tag of $40,000-plus, they are pie in the sky for most amputees or people born with partially developed limbs.

Now engineers at the University of Central Florida are ready to arm the world with prosthetic arms for less than $500.

Annika “Anni” Bryson-Emmert is a 10-year-old girl from Norco, California, who was born with a partially developed right arm. In an interview with LifeZette, her mother Karon Bryson-Emmert described her daughter’s experience.

“Annika will often hide her arm if she can. She hates the stares of mostly other children. They will follow her around stores staring and pointing. She will often ask me: ‘Why?’ I respond, ‘Why not? Would you want it to be someone else?’ The answer is ‘No,’ every time,” Karon Bryson-Emmert said.

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After working with the University of Central Florida Limbitless Solutions last spring, Anni’s family flew to Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, to visit Winter, the dolphin from the “Dolphin Tale” movies, that Anni loved. But there was a surprise waiting: When Anni opened a box to feed Winter, she saw her new prosthetic arm, decorated with graphics from the movie.

“When they designed Annika’s arm, they printed flowers and had them layered over the arm,” Bryson-Emmert said.

“Anni is a very strong little girl who loves God, has a heart of gold and will always be the first to help anyone who needs it. “

“The artists who paint the arms are incredible in their detail. Her arm is beautiful. When it is fitted correctly, the elbow moves very smoothly and the length matches that of her real arm. It does not weigh a lot, so it’s comfortable and easy to wear — unlike the heavy, bulky, older medical prosthetics that Annika has had in the past.”

The other kids don’t look at Anni in the same way.

“Anni loves to wear her arm to school, and her friends were amazed. I love that it has awakened kids around her to dream of ideas that they, too, can design,” she said.

The meeting was arranged through Microsoft’s Collective Project in conjunction with a group of University of Central Florida students who are determined to use technology to make the world a better place. One of these students is Albert Manero, a 26-year-old Fulbright scholar who is studying for a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering.

“The process is complex,” Manero said in an interview with LifeZette.

Laser scans create the computer design to tailor the device to the child.

“We go through printing, electronics, painting, testing, and then the first use for the child. The arms are 3D-printed. This allows for rapid prototyping and customization. We even blend in art! We add our custom electronics and wiring following the printing,” Manero said.

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The site has photos and video clips of Anni meeting Winter. But the dolphin isn’t the only star on the scene. Six-year-old Alex Pring is pictured with a prosthetic arm given to him by Robert Downey Jr., aka Tony Stark, aka “Iron Man.”

Students at the University of Central Florida are ready to “arm” the world with prosthetic arms for less than $500.

In late August, the university launched a crowdfunding IndieGogo site — Limbitless Books and Bionics — with the goal of raising $25,000 to provide 75 bionic limbs and books to children displaced by the civil war in Syria. After a month, they had raised just over $5,000.

“The arms for the Syrian children will be (here) in 2016,” Manero said. “Our goal is that no child should be without a limb, or have to pay for one. We plan to keep pioneering affordable tech for the disabled community — and donate as much as we can to those in need.”

Manero is working with Jamal Zakaria, vice president of Help Syria and the leader of the project to attach prosthetic arms with refugee children.

“The children who will receive the arms are the ones in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan camps,” Zakaria told LifeZette.

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“The children are chosen due to their needs for these arms, no matter who they are or where they come from, as we are a totally humanitarian organization,” Zakaria said.

Lending a hand — or an arm — is something Annika Bryson-Emmert knows a thing or two about.

“Anni is a very strong little girl who loves God, has a heart of gold and will always be the first to help anyone that needs it,” her mom said.

She’s now better equipped than ever to do just that.

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