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SALT LAKE CITY — If your child has a rare disorder that leaves them so weak they can't even lift their own arms, it may seem like their life is over before it really began. But one option you now have is to build your kid an exoskeleton.
The adorable Emma Lavelle is afflicted with a devastating disease called arthrogryposis. It's a congenital ailment that causes her joints to be malformed and her muscles to be extremely weak, composed mostly of fibrous tissue and fat. Emma can't even lift her arms from her sides, and she would never be able to at all without the intrepid thinking of Dr. Tariq Rahman, PhD. And a trusty 3D printer.
Rahman had developed the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton, known as WREX, a device which allows children with muscular dystrophy, spinal injuries or disorder and arthrogryposis to move around with the clever placement of flexible prosthetics and rubber bands. Using the WREX, Emma was able to move and quickly fell into her newfound freedom of movement. The only problem was that Emma was much too small to make efficient use of the stationary metal exoskeleton.
Through the use of 3D printing, Rahman and his colleagues were able to construct a novel WREX that was extremely small and lightweight and uses a jacket that allows her almost total freedom while she has it on. Using nothing more than plastic, a printer and a computer program, totally custom-fitting exoskeletons can be made not only for Emma, but for anyone of any size
The above video of Emma produced by Stratasys, the company that manufactures the printer, is definitely a little bit of a commercial for their technology, but it is nevertheless a tearjerker to see such a young child so excited to finally be able to interact with her world.