Medicine Digest

26 February 2024

These Kids 3-D Printed Their Own Prosthetics — And Turned Themselves Into Superheroes

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Andreas Bastian helps 10-year-old Riley.
: Sarah ORourke/Autodesk

[Adults] have a huge amount to unlearn before we start to leverage the technology, Bastian said. Kids havent yet learned that. They dont know the things we treat as impractical or impossible. Theyre just happy to try anything that occurs to them. They dont have those filters. They dont immediately discount ideas as being impartial or impossible.

Ive spent a lot of time teaching adults, he added. Colleagues, including people with decades of [computer-aided design] experience. I was really impressed how unfazed the kids are by things that [adults can find difficult] … it was not a traditional teaching or learning experience or environment.

Because the designs werent fully fleshed out before the kids arrived, ORourke said there were multiple craft-supply runs to Michaels.

The kids were so open and honest, and would tell you what they like and what they dont like, she told Mic. Its very refreshing. Theres no pretense at all. Its why I love working with kids — you always get that.

[Kids] dont know the things we treat as impractical or impossible. Theyre just happy to try anything that occurs to them.

It was pretty awesome, 13-year-old Kieran Blue Coffee told Mic. The California resident is missing his right hand as a result of Amniotic Band Syndrome, a condition that develops in the womb when a baby becomes tangled in strands of tissue from the amniotic sac.

When it came to his prototype, which was outfitted with LED lights, Kieran remained modest about the ideas germination.

I kind of sketched it out, he told Mic. I wasnt gonna use LED lights. Over time I was thinking about it. And then I thought it would look cool.

Sydney shows off her prototype, which features a water gun.
: Sarah ORourke/Autodesk

But there was also another dynamic at play, and it was one that the adults in the room didnt necessarily expect: The kids became the teachers.

The traditional way things are made for millennia shapes how we design things, Bastian told Mic. So when we sit at a 3-D printer to design something, our ability to design something new is actually pretty constrained. We have a lot to unlearn. Kids, he said, are far less aware of these constraints because they dont have the breadth of knowledge that adults do.

If I ask you to imagine a hole in a wood, what shape is that? Circular, because thats what shape a drill is. Our ability to imagine that is heavily shaped by my knowledge of existing manufacturing processes, he explained. What 3-D printing needs, he said, is to break beyond the mold — and kids are uniquely equipped to do that.

: Sarah ORourke/Autodesk

The question, however, is how to best connect kids and 3-D printers. The folks at Autodesk have been mulling the quandary for some time.

Were really trying to elevate that so it becomes a lot more accessible, ORourke told Mic. Does this [workshop] become a summer camp option? One possibility, she said, was bringing the technology to the classroom.

In classrooms throughout the U.S., theres such this emergence of science, creativity and social and emotional learning, she said. A project like this, creating it into a curriculum for teachers to use — were honing in on that.

And while the Superhero Cyborgs program is designed for kids with upper limb disabilities, ORourke believes the benefits are there for everyone.

The workshop is more about body modification, whether you have a limb difference or not, she said. Its about finding the superhero in all of us.