In 1992, a freak skiing accident left Amanda Boxtel paralyzed from the waist down. Her doctor said she would never walk again. But this week at the Singularity University summit in Budapest, Hungary, Boxtel was able to walk with the help of a 3D-printed exosuit.
The suit is the result of a collaboration between North Carolina-based 3D-printing company 3D Systems and California-based exoskeleton developers Ekso Bionics. To make it, developers scanned Boxtel's legs and back with professional laser scanners. 3Dsystems used the scans to design several custom-fitted parts, which were then 3D printed in ultra-durable nylon.
The rest of the suit is comprised of motors and scanners, developed and tested by Ekso Bionics, that help wearers move their limbs.The onboard scanners detect the user's motion, then tell the motors how much more power to add in order to help the wearer walk.
This isn't the first so-called exosuit that Ekso Bionics has developed. It worked with military contractor Lockheed Martin to develop the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier), a military exosuit to help soldiers carry heavy loads in the field. The company also develops medical exosuits like Boxtel's, which are designed to compensate for a human body's lack of mobility, or in extreme cases replace the body's mobility entirely with its own motorized power.
However, Boxtel's suit is the first 3d-printed exosuit and the first suit custom-designed for an individual person. 3D Systems calls Boxtel's suit a "proof of concept" that 3D-printed exosuits can help people with movement disabilities such as paraplegia.
Though an industrial-strength laser scanner was used to scan Boxtel's body when this project began years ago, 3D Systems says that its $400 consumer-level scanner called the Sense is up to the task. "Going forward [we] are using the Sense on similar projects as it's great for body capturing," said 3D Systems' spokesperson Alyssa Reichental.