Lego prosthetic puts imagination at amputee’s fingertips

By Sarah Glenn

In a video that has captured the attention of amputees everywhere, Dario, a young amputee from Bogata Columbia, gleefully chases a friend around the room while a light from a Lego spaceship extends from his fingertips.

The elementary school boy who is missing his left hand due to a congenital birth defect is the star of a research project released earlier this month by Carlos Arturo Torres, a graduate of Umea Institute of Design. Torres teamed up with Lego Future Lab and CIREC to create a prosthetic that allows children amputees to create their own limb extensions with Legos – anything from a spaceship to a working front loader dump truck could extend from the child’s robotic limb.

“The needs of a kid in disability are not always related to physical activity but often alternatively the social and psychological aspect,” Torres says in the project abstract. “Sometimes a functional element is everything they need, but some other times it might be a spaceship, or a doll house, or a telescope, or a video game controller, or a swim fin… What if kids could use their imagination to create their own prosthetics, their own tools according to their own needs?”

The Columbian designer grew up in they midst of his country’s civil wars, and as a result saw many amputees.

“Empowering kids in disability to raise their voice, to realize they are indeed special was my first thought when I started the project,” Torres said in his paper, published online through Umea.

So he connected with CIREC, a Columbia-based rehabilitation and prothesis center.

When Lego Future Lab joined the project as a sponsor, Torres began the task of bridging the gap between functionality and fun.

The modular prosthetic uses myoelectric sensors that sense the activity of the muscle in the stump and send a signal to control movement in the attachment. From there, the child attaches a processing unit that contains an robotic engine which the child can snap lego pieces onto. The engine is compatible with Lego Mindstorms, the company’s robotics line, which lets the wearer build an extensive range of customized, programmable limbs.

The IKO Creative Prosthetic System is still in its early stages and still not available for purchase. However, Torres told Gizmag that he aims for them to be sometime between December 2016 and mid-2017.

The project was awarded the prize for Open Design Student in the 2015 Core77 Design Awards earlier this month.

“The project proposes a new mindset from what current prosthetics are,” Torres wrote. “Missing a limb shouldn’t be a disability for a kid when you have the opportunity to explore and augment their potential by creating, playing and learning.”
Torres has since graduated from Sweden-based Umea Institute of Design and is living in Chicago. For more on his project, visit this link.

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