An exoskeleton that helped a two-year-old girl use her arms for the first time has been nominated for the Design of the Year awards, a contest organised by London’s Design Museum. The custom-made exoskeleton was manufactured by researchers at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, with the help of a 3-D Printer from Stratasys Ltd. The researchers used the 3-D printer to produce a customised version of the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX).
Emma was born with a congenital disorder that causes stiff joints and undeveloped muscles; as a result, she was unable to move her arms. Researchers at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children developed the original WREX, a product of JEACO Orthopedic. But the device was developed for children over six years old and attached to a wheelchair. Emma was too small to use the device and was able to walk without a wheelchair. The researchers used a 3-D printer to create a smaller version that attached to a plastic vest. The plastic model, meant to be a prototype, turned out to be strong enough for everyday use, enabling Emma to use her arms to eat and pick up toys. When young children are not able to use their arms for an extended amount of time, it can impact their development, so the ability to custom-make an exoskeleton for a child can help ensure cognitive growth.