Dress up your abilities

We make so many choices about our appearance every day from the temporary (like outfits) to the more long term (like hair cut/color) to the more-or-less permanent (like tattoos).

When you lose control of one of those things, you really lose a little bit of your identity. Imagine if someone else chose your outfit, make up, and hair. You could be utterly unrecognizable.

I imagine this loss is one of those overlooked for amputees. Suddenly you lose that choice. Even the simple choice of what color to paint your nails.

The problem with most prosthetics is that they really aren’t unique. They are cookie-cutter solutions that lack individuality. They often deny the wearer even the natural form of their missing limb, so it can be difficult to feel connected.

Bespoke fairing

A fairing to be fit over a prosthetic leg.

Bespoke innovations is changing that. This start up is pretty incredible. They use 3D printing technology to print “accessories” for artificial limbs, called fairings. They scan the remaining limb (or a stand-in for bilateral amputees) and create custom pannels that fit over existing prosthetics to give back the shape the wearer lost. They can do this with a camera and a laptop.

Free floating tattooThis fairing can be customized not only by shape, but by design! The wearer gets to participate in the creative process as it is supposed to reflect their individuality.

You can 3D print tattoos into different materials or laser tattoo a leather panel.

These fairings are not meant to imitate a natural limb but reflect the individual.

Our goal is to be apologetically man made…make it something that someone can’t wait to show the world.

lace fairing leg prosthetic

“We’re just giving form, shape and contours that were hers to begin with.” –Scott Summit

Of the estimated 1.2 million amputees in the United States, many are showing off their limbs–more than ever before. These artificial limbs allow wearers to express their individuality to a degree many cannot attain. And some argue its the fusion of man and machine appeal that has people openly baring some titanium:

The line that has long separated human beings from the machines that assist them is blurring as complex technologies become a visible part of people who depend upon them. Unlike pacemakers and fabricated heart valves that are embedded in the body, these technologies are, so to speak, worn on their users’ sleeves. —NY Times

fairing on artificial leg

When I see this man with his fairings, I see a whole person. The artificial limb ceases to be just a mobility device and starts being part of the person. What I’m curious about is…do these fairings, by restoring the human shape and the connection to the limb, diminish phantom sensations?

3D printed legAccording to Scott Summit’s Ted Talk (below), one person who uses fairings said his soccer team stopped thinking of him as an amputee. Watch to see all their design capabilities and their ultimate goal: to develop this process to print entire legs, not just the fairings to dress up the underlying prosthesis. It’s so, so interesting!