Walking Again with 3D Printed Exoskeleton
In 1992 outgoing, sporty type Amanda Boxtel took a day off work to head up to Coney Glade, a well-known ski course route in Aspen, for a leisurely ski. Feeling out of sorts she took the easy course – what happened next changed her life forever.
Amanda crossed the tips of her skis and began to fall, somersaulting on to her back she instantly knew what had happened. She was paralysed from the waist down and told by doctors that she would never walk again.
For most, if one sport took away the use of your legs it is safe to say you’d probably avoid that sport for the rest of you life, not Amanda. She was skiing again just two years after the accident, and in 1995 she co-founded Challenge Aspen, which assists adaptive athletes in reaching their athletic goals.
By 2002 she was skiing with the Olympic Torch for the Salt Lake City Winter Games, but despite being told she’d never do it again Amanda’s real dream was walking again.
In 2005, after delivering 200 wheelchairs to the poorest of the poor in Argentina she received a phone call from Berkeley Bionics CEO Eythor Bender, who had an interesting proposition for Amanda.
Berkley Bionics were developing an intelligent, bionic exoskeleton that allows wheelchair users to stand and walk over ground called eLEGS. They wanted Amanda to debut this ground breaking device and as she walked onto a TEDx stage in 2010 people stood up, whooped and cheered at the sight of this remarkable lady being remarkable yet again.
Since 2010 Berkley Bionics has become Ekso Bionics, Ekso has helped individuals take over a million steps that would not have otherwise been possible. R&D has continued and one key area was how to make the exoskeletons tailor made and therefore more comfortable for the user.
Almost 22 years to the day since Amanda’s debilitating accident Ekso have shown how that is possible thanks to the help of a little technology called 3D Printing.
3D Systems joined forces with Ekso in order to create a more comfortable tailor made hybrid exoskeleton, which Amanda has piloted by walking the streets of Budapest at a Singularity – University event.
“After years of dreaming about it, I am deeply grateful and thrilled to be making history by walking tall in the first ever 3D printed Ekso-Suit, made specifically for me,” said Amanda Boxtel.
To obtain the perfect fit for Amanda, 3D Systems' designers used 3D scanning to digitize the contours of Amanda’s thighs, shins and spine and create a personalized three-dimensional base to inform the shape of the required assemblies. Sophisticated mechanical actuators and controls, manufactured and provided by Ekso Bionics, were then integrated with the more fluid components that were 3D printed from the customised scans to create the first ever bespoke suit. “This project represents the triumph of human creativity and technology that converged to restore my authentic functionality in a stunningly beautiful, fashionable and organic design,” Boxtel said.
“I believe that the most beautiful and functional designs have already been patented by nature, and inspired by Amanda’s incredible spirit, we were able to harness nature’s beauty with 3D printed functionality and freedom of creation to allow her body and spirit to soar,” said Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3DS. “3DS has long been a pioneer in patient-specific devices, integrating our cutting-edge 3D capabilities with robotics to better serve humanity opens new and unimaginable frontiers.”
This is yet another in the increasing line of medical applications that 3D printing is paving the way for.