Project Aims to Provide Public-Domain Prosthetic Designs

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By Miki Fairley

"We feel that an unconstrained flow of ideas between the designers and users of prostheses would be substantially beneficial to both," says co-founder Jesse Crossen, an industrial designer.

Open Prosthetics founders from left: Jesse Crossen, Jonathan Kuniholm, Chuck Messer, and Kevin Webb.
Open Prosthetics founders from left: Jesse Crossen, Jonathan Kuniholm, Chuck Messer, and Kevin Webb.

Crossen and the three other co-founders met at North Carolina State University (NCSU), where they worked together on engineering projects.

After graduation, they decided to keep the synergy going and co-founded Tackle Design Inc., a successful industrial design and research and development firm. "We combine traditional approaches to industrial design with expertise in such fields as biomedical engineering, robotics, and software development," the team explains.

Besides Crossen, co-founders include Jonathan Kuniholm, Jason Stevens, and Chuck Messer. They were later joined by partner Kevin Webb, who brings a background in environmental studies, city planning, and computers.

The five principals "know how to take ideas from the back of a napkin to the production line and beyond," according to an article by Jim Wise in The News & Observer , Raleigh, North Carolina, August 6, 2005. Besides industrial design, their backgrounds include machining, mechanical and biomedical engineering, manufacturing, product development, robotics, and software development, along with other related specialties.

Projects Underway

Currently the team is working on three major projects:

1) A low-cost myoelectric arm : This project aims to reduce the cost of the electromechanical components of a myoelectric arm below $500. This will put high-tech prostheses within the means of more users, the team notes.

2) A more versatile body-powered hook : The goal for this project is to develop a body-powered prosthetic hook that combines the functions of voluntary opening and voluntary closing devices. "This will make a single body-powered arm useful for a wider range of tasks," they observe.

3) A self-adjusting suspension system : This project plans to develop a suspension system which fits comfortably when relaxed but tightens under load to make a firm connection. This will allow prostheses to bear heavier loads without sacrificing comfort, and may reduce the cost of fitting.

Open-Source Design Burgeoning

Webb told The O&P EDGE, "We hope that this project becomes an example for other types of open-source hardware design. This is a burgeoning field, and we're excited to be a part of the conversation. We've already seen quite a few examples of the value of open-source software and the types of models that are required to support it." Webb cited the examples of Mozilla Firefox and the Linux operating system, which are "having a major impact on the mainstream tech community."

The team is confident that similar opportunities exist for hardware, particularly in the medical world. Webb said, "Right now there's simply a need for examples and models of how to structure these endeavors. There are lots of other innovators out there in the world that are doing similar kinds of work, but in other fields, and we'd love to see a common conversation develop around this type of work." He gave two examples of other communities built around open-source, collaborative hardware design: Whirlwind Wheelchair International ( www.whirlwindwheelchair.org ) and zeroprestige.org

Designer, Engineer, User Collaboration

Webb continued, "The project is designed to support collaboration between traditional designers and engineers as well as user innovators--prosthetics users with an interest and ability to participate in the design dialog by providing ideas, feedback, and new designs as well as design refinements. Our project is structured in such a way that we believe it will lower the barrier to entry for many would-be designers, by making the design process and the tools for collaboration more accessible.

"We're looking for support for the project both in terms of monetary investment as well as investments of time and skills," Webb said. "We've been developing some really exciting relationships with existing prosthetics research communities at various universities and are looking forward to further expanding the community of participants. We believe there is tremendous as-yet-untapped enthusiasm and ability to advance this area of technology and are encouraged by the response we're receiving with the folks we meet."

Crossen added, "What we are trying to do is develop a model where there is a dialog between users and manufacturers that benefits both, and where users and technicians feel empowered to enhance the technologies they use rather than merely consuming them. For instance, a technically inclined amputee or technician could fill a special need by downloading our CAD files, modifying them, and sending them to a machinist."

The group invites others to collaborate and participate as grant writers, researchers, or by providing legal assistance and other skills.

For more information, visit http://openprosthetics.org and www.tackledesign.com

To contact the Open Prosthetics Project, e-mail info@tackledesign.com or call 919.341.5396.