Ultra customised prosthetic leg 3D printed by Thinking Robot Studios, NovaCad and NSCAD

On November 2, 2013 Natasha Hope Simpson, 24, was walking across a parking lot in her home town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia when she was struck by a speeding car. The car pinned her against another vehicle, shattering her left leg, before its driver fled the scene.

It all happened in a split second, yet the consequences for Natasha were devastating. Nothing could be done to save the leg, which was amputated after a series of surgeries at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Health Sciences Centre in nearby Halifax.

Natasha Hope Simpson

Throughout the whole experience, Natasha never lost her optimism and was grateful that she could walk again with the aid of a prosthetic limb. Yet something didn’t feel quite right about her new appendage. If it was going to be a part of her body for the rest of her life, Natasha wanted it to be more than just a medical application that aided her mobility. She wanted it to perfectly suit the symmetry of her body and express something about her personally.

3D printed leg scanLast February, she gave a talk on just this topic at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Institute for Applied Creativity, from which she had recently graduated with a BA in Fine Arts. In the audience was the institute’s Director Gregor Ash.

Inspired by her story, Ash puts Natasha in contact with Kendall Joudrie and Jourdan Dakov from Thinking Robot Studios, a customised robotics firm.

After talking to Natasha, they agreed to help her create a prototype for her personalised, aesthetically dynamic prosthetic leg in time for the NSCAD’s upcoming symposium, with the help of NovaCad’s Mike Fanning, who would print it at 3D Systems’ Boston service.

They also agreed to then develop and produce a fully functional version over the following twelve months.

The first step was to laser scan and white light scan Natasha’s right leg, to ensure the model would be designed with the correct symmetry. At the same time, Joudrie and Dakov were consulting with Natasha to work out what look would best suit her.

That’s when she discovered Melissa Ng. You might remember Ng from her beguiling Dreamer/ Nightmare mask series that we covered about a month ago.

3D printed masks Melissa Ng

Natasha saw the masks on Shapeways and loved their fluid yet constant design and striking aesthetic. Thinking Robot contacted Ng, who happily donated her design to the project, which she continues to support. The leg was then sent off to Boston for printing and returned to Nova Scotia in time for the symposium.

Natasha Hope Simpson 3D printed leg

Thinking Robot and NSCAD continue to develop a final prosthetic leg for Natasha, while Joudrie says he plans to work with Ng on more projects in the future.

The whole prototyping process took a mere 15 days. When you consider a prosthetic prototype usually takes upwards of three months to create, it shows the rapid power of 3D printing in action. Armed with this technology, a small group of determined, imaginative individuals can join forces to manufacture a life changing prototype in a matter of days.

3D printed prosthetic limbs

Photos by Eliot Wright

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