Aaron Westbrook, a high school student from Ohio, is just 18 years old – but the project he has created is a lesson in innovation, sustainability, and care for people and the planet at large. Having already launched an inventive non-profit, Form5, he has a goal of creating a series of sustainable prosthetics – and to make them, he is using recycled plastic waste.
Westbrook was born with one hand and he tried out his first prosthetic while he was a freshman at New Albany High School – with disappointing results, Fast Company reports. The device was costly at about $40,000 and it did not fit well at all. That was when he realized that there was a bigger problem with prosthetics available to people at the time – both the devices’ cost and their inefficiency were serious issues.
He did not stop at that discovery – and decided to make his own prosthetics using the 3D printer in his school’s lab to create it. The plastic hand he made had an elbow-controlled cable system that allowed the fingers to open and close.
Prosthetics, however, are generally task-specific – which means that for a special grip, you need to have a specific attachment. That, in turn, equals a lot of purchases, each of them expensive. Westbrook decided to act on that issue as well. He launched Form5, a non-profit dedicated to customizing mostly open-sourced artificial limb designs – and one doing it in an environmentally friendly way, at that – to make the process more affordable for people. “I kind of joke [that] Form5 is a one-man, one-hand show,” he says.
Westbrook collects recyclable material on his own and he hopes to repurpose outdated hands into new devices as well, so as to reduce any additional waste. Many initial designs available come from e-NABLE, an open-source community that shares templates – their designs do not replicate the top-of-the-line and most expensive myoelectric appendages but more simple muscle-actuated ones. Still, the cost of those devices is normally between $6,000 and $10,000 – in the case of 3D printing, it can drop to around $35 in materials, plus the cost of the machine.
So far, Form5’s staff consists only of its creator and the project is a small one – but Westbrook has already managed to make several prototypes and two appendages for clients with specific needs during the pilot stage. One of his designs was a limb attachment that could hold a cello bow. Another was a black-and-white “panda-theme” arm for a seven-year-old. Westbrook is aiming high and working on his project with dedication – and he now hopes to create and share some of his open-source designs within the next year.
To learn more about Form5 Prosthetics, check out their website here.
To learn how to create less plastic waste in your everyday life, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign!
Image source: Form5 Prosthetics Inc./Instagram