Sunday, April 6, 2014

Personalized Prosthetics: from Awkward Gawks to Admiring Gazes

Losing a limb is one of the most psychologically devastating events that can befall a person from lingering phantom sensations, months or even years of rehabilitation, to receiving incessant awkward glares and stares from fully limbed individuals. All of these events and countless others put tremendous stress on amputees who just want to live a satisfyingly normal life. This is where Scott Summons, founder of Bespoke Innovations, comes into the picture. His company develops fairings (“specialized coverings that surround an existing prosthetic leg”) that allow wearers to not only cover up their sterile prosthetic but also express an individualized part of their personality.

The process is amazingly quick and unobtrusive. Patients begin by sorting through an immense online catalogue to choose what designs, finishes, colors, and materials they want for their fairing. This includes composite materials, fine metals, and even leather. Afterwards, they are brought to any facility where a 3D scanner can image both their real leg and their current prosthetic. This allows the prosthetic to fit in the shape of the person’s real leg. After the scanning process, the engineers tweaked the image for the specifications. The design is then sent to their factory in South Carolina where a 3D printer manufactures the entire covering in one go. The amputee then receives their fairing in almost no time at all.
 The fairings cost between 3,000 and 6,000 dollars and are lightweight, durable, and easily cleaned. The designers also recommend that patients do not get a fairing until after they are fully habituated to their prosthetic, so they do not have to buy a new one if things do not work out. For me, the coolest thing is that even double amputees can also undergo this process. They have “stand-ins” (pun probably intended) who match the individuals in build and stature and who stand on the scanner for them. This permits for the recipient maximum normalcy and comfort.

These fairings are at the convergence of new technology (3D printers), timing (lowering costs), and collaboration (so many diverse fields are involved here). The overall process requires the involvement of the patients, their prosthetists, mechanical engineers, and artists. It would appear that they have obtained a near perfect Q score to achieve such amazing things in their biosocial-medical field.
And, it was Scott Summons who brought all these people together to give individuals who lost so much in their lives so much back. Just as how Bob Taylor in the Bennis reading brought together the foremost computer scientists to push the limits of the technology, Mr. Summers collected the best and most diverse talent he could get just to let them work together to find the most personal and effective way to help people feel at one with their prosthetics
Mr. Summers also holds at least one of the paradoxical qualities of the creative individual. In Csikszentmihalyi’s article, eminent creatives are both imaginative but realistic. In this case, Mr. Summers believes that one day his company will be printing and grafting organic tissue to totally replace the damaged body part instead of just these fanciful coverings. He believes that if lizards can regrow tails, then humans can build real, biological limbs. While quirky sounding and still a little far off from today’s technology, this is a very realistic possibility in the next few decades, especially with recent advancements in 3D printing, which has allowed the printing of skin grafts for burn victims.
I find this truly an amazing and creative process, because Mr. Summers and his team are not only doing some beautiful, they are also advancing science while helping others to live as normal and as awesome as a life as possible.

Sites for further information;



  1. This is actually a really great idea... amputees probably hate seeing all of the weird looks that people give them when a prosthetic is noticed. By creating these fairings, Summers and his team have given those other people something to look at that an amputee doesn't have to be embarrassed by.

    I actually recently saw a TED talk on another group working on prosthesis (Hugh Herr and his team at MIT). They've managed to create a flexible interface between a prosthetic limb and the remainder of the patient's biological limb. If these two groups were able to collaborate, I think they could create some truly remarkable things: high-functioning prosthetic limbs that are not only more comfortable, but also attractive, improving patients' physical and social/mental health.

    The TED talk is here:

  2. This is incredibly creative and really amazing. As a graduate of a military high school I had many friend who chose to serve in the military and unfortunatly, I have had the experience of friends coming home injuried. One of my best firends who went to serve in Iraq ended up driving over an IED and loosing both his legs. Although many people would come home emotionally scarred from this experience and the dramatic loss, Kyle is incredibly proud of his service to his country and chooses to see the positive results from his experience. His one complaint is the looks he gets now that he is back in the United States. Providing a way for injured people to have some control over a situation which was largely out of their control is awesome. In my opinion the most creative and most impactful thing about this article is the ability for a person to have their other leg, through the use of 3D matched for the prostetic. In speaking with Kyle the unnatural appearance of his prostetics actually causes him to not want to wear them in situations where they would be seen (i.e. wearing shorts); however, this company is taking away the terrible stigma that sometimes accompanies the use of prostetics. Kyle hinmself stated that he was so happy to hear of a company doing this and how big of an impact this will make on his fellow injured soldiers.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.