It is reported that the 3D printed prosthesis designed by the start-up Cure Bionics from Tunisia is not only powerful, but also cheap enough for people in low-income countries. Unlike traditional equipment, artificial hands can be tailored for children and teenagers, otherwise they will incur high prices due to the need for a series of size adjustment models as they grow up.
The bionic hand is made of Lego parts, if it is damaged, it can be replaced and can match the growth of the child’s body. 4 years ago, in a college challenge competition, a teammate of Mohamed Dhaouafi had no upper limbs after he was born, and at the same time he could not afford to install it. The cost of the prosthesis. So they decided to design a prosthesis when Mohamed Dhaouafi was an engineering student in his hometown of Sousse. When he began to study physical disabilities around the world, he found that there was a huge demand gap in this field. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, 30 million people in poor countries have unfortunately suffered amputations, but only 5% of them can install a prosthesis. Moreover, because children have not stopped growing, the long-term cost of installing high-quality prostheses for them is even more expensive. However, if the prosthesis is not installed, the shame and mobility problems will prevent most people from going to school or even employment. “We are not just talking about physical differences, we are also talking about poverty, about access to education and health care.” Dhaouafi said. In 2017, Mohamed Dhaouafi founded his own start-up company at home, when many of his classmates chose to go abroad to seek higher salaries and international experience. Dhaouafi pointed out the obstacles in Tunisia, where it is difficult or impossible to order parts through a large online sales website. In addition to lack of funds, he also lacks like-minded people. However, he was able to recruit four young engineers through sponsorship of the competition and funds raised from a seed investment obtained from a US company.
Mohamed Dhaouafi and his team are fine-tuning the design, writing code, and testing artificial hands. Now, he has a product that can help people get advanced prosthetics more easily. His start-up company Cure Bionics in Tunisia is about to launch an adjustable multi-handle bionic arm at only $2,000, which is very cheap compared to similar products. They are planning to use 3D Printing technology to produce key components and internally design most of the circuits to reduce costs. But this does not mean that their products do not have quality assurance: like the bionic arms developed by other companies, Cure’s prototype device is also equipped with sensors that allow users to manipulate the prosthesis by bending or relaxing the muscles of the residual limb, while also developing algorithms. Efforts have been made to help the bionic arm recognize the electrical signals of the body more accurately, and to minimize the reliance on plastic surgeons. In the next phase, Cure plans to launch a virtual reality-based head-mounted viewer that will provide a gamified effect on children’s physical therapy process. “It’s not like a doctor who asks you to imagine picking up an apple, you just need to jump between buildings with your hands like Spider-Man.” Dhaouafi said.
Cure Bionics also plans to develop a virtual reality system similar to video games to help young people learn how to use artificial hands through physical therapy. Dhaouafi and his team are about to release this multi-handle bionic arm. They have tested 5 Tunisian youths and will soon be tested in 3 government hospitals. Dhaouafi’s ultimate wish is to provide a series of high-quality and affordable prostheses for young people in Africa, the Middle East and other regions.
Leapfrogging technologyCure’s goal is also to manufacture products that are as close to the end user as possible, where local technicians measure the patient, and then print the separately installed equipment. Nowadays, importing prostheses means you have to wait weeks or even months for waiting time, and every repair has to be done. The bionic hand developed by Mohamed Dhaouafi and his team is made of Lego-like parts, which can be replaced if damaged and can match the child’s physical growth. It can also be powered by solar energy through a photovoltaic charger for use in areas where there is no reliable power supply. Jerry Evans, the head of Canadian non-commercial organization Nia Technologies, said that this is not a magical solution because professional medical knowledge is still crucial. The company helps African hospitals manufacture 3D printed lower limbs. 3D printing is still in its early stages, but it is the main changer in the field of prosthetics and orthotics.
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