Researchers at the University of Lincoln are pushing the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to state-of-the-art prosthetics for small children, previously thought too young for bespoke mechanical limbs.
Experts from the University’s School of Engineering have created a prototype for the first 3D-printed, sensor-operated prosthetic arm designed for toddlers under two years old.
The lightweight device with soft grip fingers uses an armband fitted with sensors to detect electrical signals naturally conducted by muscles. This enables the toddler to grip and pick up objects in much the same way as they would with a natural arm.
While muscle-stimulated (or ‘myoelectric’) prostheses are routinely used by adults, this new smaller device is the first of its kind to translate the same technology into dimensions suitable for a toddler.
Previously, as well as being expensive to build, producing prosthesis for children under two has been considered problematic as a child’s fast growth rates mean that devices would need to be frequently replaced. By using 3D printing, the SIMPA (Soft-Grasp Infant Myoelectric Prosthetic Arm) is cheaper to produce than conventional prosthesis and can be custom made to the individual child’s required size without the need for traditional plaster casting techniques.
Dr Khaled Goher
Many traditional active prosthetics are unsuitable for toddlers as they are very time consuming to construct and heavy. Our proposed system would utilise a seven-channel paediatric armband with motion sensors allowing infants to benefit from and become familiar with active prosthetics, with evidence showing that the earlier the exposure, the more likely for the prosthetics to be accepted and used throughout life.
Another issue with existing prosthetics for children is the high rejection rates. The early fitting of a functional myoelectric device has been shown to reduce this risk, which is something that would be made possible with the use of the new SIMPA device.
Dr Khaled Goher, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering at the University of Lincoln, is lead engineer on the project.
So far, the device has been tested for grasp force and effectiveness using a range of everyday objects including toys, bottles, and building blocks, but the next stage of the project is to test the prototype design on toddlers.
Meet the Expert
Dr Khaled Goher
Senior Lecturer in Robotics and Automation
Dr Khaled Goher is an academic expert and qualified educator with strong commitment to continuous learning and development. His research interests include healthcare technologies, personal care, and medical robotics, and prosthetics.