Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 09, 2014

Student Creates 3D Printed Mechanical Arm

A student has created a surprising use for 3D printing technology in the form of the “Airy Arm,” a prosthetic device aimed to give users the ability to use their arms if they have some form of paralysis, according to

Elizabeth Jackson, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, designed the arm.

“The Airy Arm is an exoskeletal device that assists individuals with intact but non-functioning hands,” Jackson told “For example, the child that this was designed for had half of his brain removed which resulted in the paralysis of his wrist and hand. No electric components are used, and the hand is instead driven by the user’s own controlled movement of the elbow.”

Jackson designed the Airy Arm under the auspices of Jon Schull and the e-Nable project.

The user pulls on cables attached the elbow, which then controls the fingers of the hand. The Airy Arm has a double hinge so that the user has free, comfortable movement without irritating the skin. Reaching for an object opens the hand, and pulling back closes it.

The device shows how 3D printing can bring the cost and complexity of functional prosthetics down to people who might not be able to afford them otherwise. Mechanical arms have been around for a while, but they’ve been cumbersome, expensive affairs. Since the Airy Arm has no electronic parts, it can be made very cheaply.

The frame of the arm is made out of plastic, which is flat when it comes out of the printer. The pieces are immersed in hot water and bent into the shape that surrounds the arm.

Jackson will be working with the Brain Recovery Project to turn her prototype into a finished product.

Projects like the Airy Arm could revolutionize prosthetics. While a 3D printer itself is a significant investment, the cost of materials is very cheap. With 3D printing, prosthetics can be created much more quickly and cheaply than before. This is significant in an area where devices have to be extensively customized to fit the user.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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