Creating 3D-printed superhero arms for young amputees – Times of Malta


December 4, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ 3D Printed Articles


Artificial intelligence student Jason Micallef, whose fascination with robotic prostheses, similar to those used in super hero films and digital games, started from a young age. Photo: Mark Zammit Lupi

A student is designing a 3D-printed prosthetic which monitors blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and general health. Claire Caruana met him.

Children with amputated limbs could soon have their own custom-made arms inspired by their favourite super hero, thanks to artificial intelligence student Jason Micallef.

Mr Micallef is in the process of designing and building arms that are built using a 3D printer embedded with electric components that connect to the users’ muscles. The process will also allow to model the arm on real super-heroes.

The 20-year-old Master’s degree student told The Sunday Times of Malta that his fascination with robotic prostheses, similar to those used in super hero films and digital games, started from a young age. Planning his final project, he decided to take this interest a step further – to create arms with tiny computers that will also monitor the user’s health.

“I am using a standard model that is easily accessible online but I am reworking the design in such a way that would allow me to also include health monitoring systems,” Mr Micallef said.

So apart from reading muscle signals which allow for precise movements of the arm, the prosthetics would also be providing users with information on their general health. This works in a similar way a smart watch.

“The arm would therefore be able to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and the user’s overall general health,” Mr Micallef went on, adding that the could also be equipped with a small touch screen to further enhance these features.

Hopefully… users will not only be equipped with an arm but one that would be even ­­­­better than their own

While the prosthesis would be like having “a computer embedded in an arm,” Mr Micallef said the product would also function just like any other traditional prosthetic, with precision being a key function.

Myoelectric-controlled prostheses – artificial limbs that are controlled by the electrical signals generated naturally the muscles – have come a long way since their inception and Mr Micallef believes his project could even take this to another level.

“Myoelectric prostheses have gone from simply being able to grasp things to now picking up something as fragile as an egg without breaking it.

“What I’m working on will hopefully take this a step further and users will not only be equipped with an arm but one that would be even better than their own,” the student said.

On the durability of products made using 3D printers, he explained that he would be making use of a type of plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic. The material is light but extremely durable.

“Current prosthetics either look good or else they are highly functional but very expensive, so this is a meet-in-between type of project,” explained Mr Micallef.

This is especially beneficial for children as these tend to outgrow their prosthesis in a “matter of months” and as their bodies grow and change, new prosthesis would be needed.

“With 3D printing you can rapidly and very cheaply deploy the final design and within a few weeks the amputee could have a new prosthesis.

“In this way, we could also make the design fun. Children could have theirs custom-made, which could help with the stigma, especially if children are shy, for instance.”

Mr Micallef is currently reading for a Master’s degree at the University’s Department of Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial intelligence student Jason Micallef, whose fascination with robotic prostheses, similar to those used in super hero films and digital games, started from a young age. Photo: Mark Zammit Lupi

A student is designing a 3D-printed prosthetic which monitors blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and general health. Claire Caruana met him.

Children with amputated limbs could soon have their own custom-made arms inspired by their favourite super hero, thanks to artificial intelligence student Jason Micallef.

Mr Micallef is in the process of designing and building arms that are built using a 3D printer embedded with electric components that connect to the users’ muscles. The process will also allow to model the arm on real super-heroes.

The 20-year-old Master’s degree student told The Sunday Times of Malta that his fascination with robotic prostheses, similar to those used in super hero films and digital games, started from a young age. Planning his final project, he decided to take this interest a step further – to create arms with tiny computers that will also monitor the user’s health.

“I am using a standard model that is easily accessible online but I am reworking the design in such a way that would allow me to also include health monitoring systems,” Mr Micallef said.

So apart from reading muscle signals which allow for precise movements of the arm, the prosthetics would also be providing users with information on their general health. This works in a similar way a smart watch.

“The arm would therefore be able to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and the user’s overall general health,” Mr Micallef went on, adding that the could also be equipped with a small touch screen to further enhance these features.

Hopefully… users will not only be equipped with an arm but one that would be even ­­­­better than their own

While the prosthesis would be like having “a computer embedded in an arm,” Mr Micallef said the product would also function just like any other traditional prosthetic, with precision being a key function.

Myoelectric-controlled prostheses – artificial limbs that are controlled by the electrical signals generated naturally the muscles – have come a long way since their inception and Mr Micallef believes his project could even take this to another level.

“Myoelectric prostheses have gone from simply being able to grasp things to now picking up something as fragile as an egg without breaking it.

“What I’m working on will hopefully take this a step further and users will not only be equipped with an arm but one that would be even better than their own,” the student said.

On the durability of products made using 3D printers, he explained that he would be making use of a type of plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic. The material is light but extremely durable.

“Current prosthetics either look good or else they are highly functional but very expensive, so this is a meet-in-between type of project,” explained Mr Micallef.

This is especially beneficial for children as these tend to outgrow their prosthesis in a “matter of months” and as their bodies grow and change, new prosthesis would be needed.

“With 3D printing you can rapidly and very cheaply deploy the final design and within a few weeks the amputee could have a new prosthesis.

“In this way, we could also make the design fun. Children could have theirs custom-made, which could help with the stigma, especially if children are shy, for instance.”

Mr Micallef is currently reading for a Master’s degree at the University’s Department of Artificial Intelligence.

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