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How A Team Of Aussie Geniuses Are Creating Robotic Prosthetics From Recycled Plastic

They've already created a prosthetic leg, finger and hand.

28/10/2017 7:36 AM AEDT | Updated 29/10/2017 11:52 AM AEDT
Re:Purpose For Good
Re:Purpose For Good is a project that aims to turn single use plastics and e-waste into low-cost robotic prosthetics for those in need.

One in a thousand Australians suffer from limb loss; that's more than 20,000 people who have to find prosthetics that are not only comfortable, but actually fit properly.

But now a team, known as Re:Purpose For Good is beginning to turn plastic waste into robotic prosthetics.

The idea came from a combination of Robotics & Prosthetics Engineer Gerardo Montoya's project of creating prosthetic limbs for children in Mexico, and the research on the environmental impact of eight million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans.

The team behind Re:Purpose For Good, which includes a robotics engineer, a sustainability specialist, biomedical engineer and an industrial designer, recently launched a Chuffed startup campaign, which reached its goal of $10,000 within four weeks.

Re:Purpose For Good

Caitlin Scullin from Re:Purpose For Good told HuffPost Australia when it comes to prosthetics, what's available in the current market is impractical and expensive, and it can also be very painful for the user.

"There's a 'one size fits all' design and this makes it really difficult to customise prosthetics to a user. Obviously, everyone is different and their needs are different, so usually more invasive surgery is required to make the prosthetics fit the person, instead of customising for their specific needs," Scullin said.

"Our designs are comfortable and, most importantly custom built for a fraction of the cost."

A prosthetic hand, for example, will cost between $3,000-4000, while a 3D printed hand, made from recycled plastic, will cost around $200.

So far, the team has created a prosthetic leg, finger and hand. Since winning the People's Choice award at Pitch@Palace, Re:Purpose For Good is onto it's next R&D phase; to make prosthetics using recycled plastic.

"What we're doing is a world first. These plastic recycling machines exist, and 3D printing exists, and 3D printed prosthetics exists. But this will be the first design to use all three systems together. Additionally, the designs will be ergonomic and totally customisable to the user's taste; if you want a blue hand, you can," Scullin said.

Re:Purpose for Good
A 3D model design of a finger.

How it all works:

  • The prosthetic is designed using 3D modelling for the mould, automation, programming and electronics.
  • Waste plastic is gathered, llike ABS and PET plastic (PET is waste such as water bottles and peanut butter jars and ABS is items like keyboards and Lego) that goes through a mechanical process for it to be used as material to 3D print the design.
  • The first step is shredding the plastic in to pellets (machine 1).
  • Then the next machine washes the pellets (machine 2).
  • Next is the extrusion process, where pellets are turned into filament (machine 3). This filament is what's used in the 3D printer (machine 4).

"We also use e-waste, like old smartphones that have all the circuitry and microprocessors we need that enable us to use intuitive design models so that a user with a prosthetic hand, for example, can grasp objects from the first fitting," Scullin said.

The team is currently working on a prosthetic leg (for a person that lost it to a rare form of cancer), a hand (for a boy who was born without a hand one) and a finger (for woman who lost her finger working for the army).

Money raised from the Chuffed campaign will be used to build more machines, pilot the first project and measure its impact.

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