Thursday, September 18, 2008

Open Source and Prosthetics

The open source model primarily used in the software community has now made it way into biomedical engineering via the field of prosthetics. With the advancement of emergency medicine, many less lives are lost during combat than in the past. However, the downside to this is that soldiers who would have died, now survive with grievous and dehabilitating injuries.
To make the picture even bleaker, the total number of persons in the American population who need prosthetics is small and  so is the profit margin.  This has led to minimal R&D in the field and those who need these devices must make do , or tinker on their own.
In reality, many garage inspired prosthetics advances have occurred but taking them beyond that point has proved troublesome due to complicated laws, along with industry practices.

In hopes of solving this dilemma and bringing greater functionality to prosthetics the Open Prosthetics Project (OPP)was born. This project was founded by a group of friends who owned their own R&D firm "Tackle Design". The beginnings of the project began when one of the members who was deployed in Iraq was the victim of an IED and lost most of his right arm. 
When he received is prosthetic he was unimpressed, to say the least. His "myoelectric" arm was state of the art and more aesthetic pleasingly than the traditional hook, but ultimately not very useful. The hook while crude in appearance and function offers much more in the way of usefulness than the newer myoelectric devices which are barely strong enough to open a door.

They group realized that the only way the could make a change in the world was prosthetics would be to make their designs public and speed up the process of development. With that thought the OPP was brought to life. It's "hope is to use this and our complementary sites to create a core group of lead users and to speed up and amplify the impact of there innovations in the industry."

Link to Wired article

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