A prototype for the first 3D-printed, sensor-operated prosthetic arm designed for children under 2 years old has been developed by engineers in the United Kingdom. The lightweight device with soft grip fingers uses an armband fitted with sensors to detect electrical signals naturally conducted by muscles. This enables the toddler to grip and pick up objects in much the same way as they would with a natural arm. The device has been tested for grasp force and effectiveness using a range of everyday objects including toys, bottles, and building blocks. The next stage of the project is to test the prototype design on toddlers.

The device, developed at the University of Lincoln, England, is the first of its kind to translate the same technology used in adult myoelectric devices into dimensions suitable for a toddler.

By using 3D printing, the Soft-Grasp Infant Myoelectric Prosthetic Arm (SIMPA) is less expensive to produce than conventional prostheses and can be custom made without the need for traditional plaster casting techniques.

“Many traditional active prosthetics are unsuitable for toddlers as they are very time-consuming to construct and heavy,” said Khaled Goher, PhD, senior lecturer in the School of Engineering at the university and the lead engineer on the project. “Our proposed system would utilize a seven-channel pediatric armband with motion sensors allowing infants to benefit from and become familiar with active prosthetics, with evidence showing that the earlier the exposure, the more likely for the prosthetics to be accepted and used throughout life.

“We are planning to use algorithm training, which would utilize games to engage with the toddlers and attune the system to the ‘grab’ signals from the armband,” Goher added.

This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Lincoln.