Todays Prosthetic Design FOR & WITH Kids

March 16, 2018 | | View Comments

Coby’s Superhero arm design resolves around a detachable appendage that can be substituted with a prosthetic extension of its wearers choice. Bringing more fun and variety to prosthetics, Aidan wears attachments to aid him with his every day activities, empowering him to not feel disadvantaged by his limb difference.

The Beginning of the Superhero Arm

Aidan Robinson was born without his left arm. Made to understand his limb difference early, he and many children who are born in similar circumstances mature quickly as they learn to embrace their childhood without a limb. A child’s life with a limb difference resembles that of any child except for the additional time needed to try on prosthetics, adapt to their weight, and learn to maneuver it into their daily lives. Aidan has been fitted with a range of prostheses over the years varying from passive limbs to more functional, electrically-powered designs. But what exactly is ‘functionality’ to a child?

For Aidan, functionality includes playing video games with friends, practicing his violin, and building epic Lego creations. Not a stranger to the various prosthetic limb options, Aidan found that the “one-size fits all” approach to prostheses was almost more limiting for him. His robotic arm had a strong and mechanical grasp, but could a lego piece withstand this strength? Could it properly grip a wii remote? These daily challenges spurred Aidan’s inspiration to create his own design — a “swiss army knife” of hands that would adapt to his active lifestyle and growing body.


“Aidan could work like a real designer, allowing him to use his prosthetic as a platform to show-off his identity and create a useful tool for daily use.” — Coby Unger

Kids Creating Freely

Designing alongside experts and engineers Aidan modeled his first prosthetic to perform a heroically simple activity: building legos. His prosthetic moon shaped hand designed to be the base for lego construction captured the spirit of integrating the prosthetic into his childhood. This ultimate toy extension was made possible through KIDmob’s Superhero Cyborg camp, and Aidan’s imagination.

KIDmob is a non-profit kid-integrated organization that prides itself in empowering communities, and increasing creative engagement through design education. Kids ages 10-15 were invited to the Superhero Cyborg Camp to design and prototype their own body modification. It was at that camp that Aidan captured the attention of Coby Unger, an artist-in-residence at Autodesk who helped him polish his prototype. Intrigued by the concept of functionality surrounding a child’s prosthetic, Coby wanted to not only create a prosthetic that would grow with its wearer but also have it extend the body’s capabilities. A contraption that has a fixed socketadjustable depending on growth combined with a replaceable piece that can be used in whichever way the child desires. Imagination is the only limit to this design, and its name is the superhero arm!


Available for Everyone!

By incorporating pieces from sports equipment, 3D-printed plasticsmalleable when placed in hot water (!), and easily found commercial materials like our good old friend velcro, Coby provided an alternatively affordable prosthetic. The impact of such a design speaks for itself, hence why Coby made the blueprints of the prototype available on the online platform Instructables, where he welcomes all who download the design to continue improving and designing for the enjoyment of children with limb differences. Coby and Aidan’s prototype is the beginning of a whole new generation of prostheses that will challenge the way disabilities are perceived, providing kids with opportunities to invent rather than obstacles to overcome.

Featuring a ratchet knob modeled after the clasp of a snowboarding boot allows Aidan to secure the prosthetic extension comfortably. 

A quick release clamp inspired by the seat design of a bicycle holds everything together and creates an easy way to change out the attachments.

All images courtesy of Matthew Kramer & Charlie Nordstrom; Video courtesy of Autodesk.

For more information  about Aidan’s Superhero Arm and other child geared prosthetic innovations, visit Bespoke Bodies: The Design and Craft of Prosthetics on view at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at PNCA in Portland, Oregon from February 15-May 9, 2018.