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Human Longevity, the Quality of Life and the Evolution of the Medical Device

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The health of America is fascinating to research. Obesity is a mass epidemic, yet we live longer than ever. At the turn of the millennium just over 30% of U.S. adults dealt with obesity. Today that number has increased to 38%. Even so, the average life expectancy has increased by two years during the same time frame.

The reasons for the confusing relationship are pretty straight forward and it isn’t because increasing your weight is good for you. It’s because of an evolving healthcare system. We’ve already talked about it’s transition from medieval to modern thanks largely in part to refrigeration but we haven’t talked yet about how technology is changing people’s lives.

Today’s medical devices are becoming stronger and safer than ever before. The Medical Device Technology Magazine has even put together a list of the top 10 innovations from 2015. A few highlights include naturally controlled artificial limbs (#7), new water purification systems (#4), and advances in vaccines (#1).

The process for getting a medical device from concept to market typically ranges between three and seven years and is strictly regulated by the FDA. Such regulations should be stringent on anything that could be implanted within the human body. Even so, there are a number of devices that are making their way into society without all the red tape. It’s all thanks to 3D printing.

We’ve covered the printing practice on our blog and in our February issue of Insights so we won’t rehash how the process works here. Instead we’ll talk about a printed device that is giving back technological control to amputees in the form of a smart wristband. According to an article by 3Dprint.com, using a mouse is something that often gets “taken for granted.” They continued on to discuss the solution.

“In order to mitigate this difficulty, researchers developed a double band device, affectionately nicknamed the Shortcut, that lets prosthetic users click away. The device consists of two bands, one worn on the wrist and the other on the arm. The band on the wrist assists in navigation through a small optical sensor that is attached. The movement of that sensor is transferred to movement of the mouse.”

This solution was developed by three German design students from the Berlin Weissensee School of Art. Lucas Rex, one of the student developers spoke with Digital Trends on the rationale behind creation.

“In our research we found out that a big problem for hand amputees is using computers. That becomes even more significant when you consider that the majority of hand amputees lose their hands in accidents involving heavy machinery. After that, they have to be re-educated to do office jobs, which invariably means using computers. While prosthetics have come a long way, they’re still far from resembling an organic hand — which is what 90 percent of computer interfaces are designed for.”

Many amputees experience the feeling of what’s often called “phantom limbs.” This occurs when an amputee believes they can still feel their missing limb attached to their body. In other words, just because someone loses a hand doesn’t mean they can’t send nerve impulses to the body that would normally raise a hand or point it. The band uses its optical sensors to take advantage of this ability. Below is a video that highlights the Shortcut and discusses just how this works.

The team of designers still have one more iteration of a working prototype to complete and then their hope is to begin usability testing before looking for ways to get the product into the world for use. If the device ever makes it into use, it may not save lives but it’ll certainly better them. Those are the kind of results you should always share in print.

 

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