Prosthetics; or the act of creating devices to help people who have been born without or have lost limbs or basic functions due to war, illness, accident or violence – have been around for centuries. Wooden toes and hands were used as prosthetics during the renaissance period. People also used iron and copper to develop them. However, these artificial limbs were uncomfortable due to their heaviness.
Innovations in technology and improvement in materials have given prosthetics a new lease of life.
Newer materials such as advanced plastics and carbon fiber composites have made the prosthetics nowadays lighter, stronger and more realistic.
The Jaipur foot is perhaps the most popular development in this space. Google.org supported Ratna Nidhi Trust, a disability empowerment not for profit organization based out of Mumbai, has distributed them in massive quantities through their disability camps. Thanks to this, amputees and those with birth defects, accident victims etc have benefitted immensely. More recently, artificial limbs have helped many physically handicapped and athletes to engage themselves in various sports and other activities.
And this has upgraded too. Thanks to a Google grant and IIT-Bombay’s expertise, a new development called the Ratna Nidhi leg, will have three-dimensional (3D) printers, assemble its prosthetic socket, one layer at a time.
Dr. B Ravi of IIT’s Biomedical Engineering and Technology Centre is working with Ratna Nidhi on the same. The 3D-printed prosthetic is made using high-density plastic within a couple of hours, instead of the eight-hour manual process.
Naturally, with greater acceptance of disability, and technology enabling persons with disability to continue with their work and remain financially independent, artificial limbs are being made fashionable and stylish too! For e.g. there could be covers made up of plastic with adjustable straps, come in a broad range of colours, patterns, and designs from delicate to fierce.
But for the moment, organizations like Ratna Nidhi are focusing on the social change aspect of it.