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Improving 3D-printed prosthetics by integrating electronic sensors

With the growth of 3D printing, it's entirely possible to 3D print your own prosthetic from models found in open-source databases. But those models lack personalized electronic user interfaces like those found in costly, state-of-the-art prosthetics. Now, a team of researchers has made inroads in integrating electronic sensors with personalized 3D-printed prosthetics -- a development that could one day lead to more affordable electric-powered prosthetics. By integrating electronic sensors at the intersection between a prosthetic and the wearer's tissue, the researchers could gather information related to prosthetic function and comfort, such as the pressure across the wearer's tissue, that can help improve further iterations of these types of prosthetics. The integration of materials within formfitting regions of 3D-printed prosthetics via a conformal 3D printing technique, instead of manual integration after printing, could also pave the way for unique opportunities in matching the hardness of the wearer's tissue and integrating sensors at different locations across the formfitting interface. Unlike traditional 3D printing that involves depositing material in a layer-by-layer fashion on a flat surface, conformal 3D-printing allows for deposition of materials on curved surfaces and objects. The ultimate goal is to create engineering practices and processes that can reach as many people as possible. Shown here: The mold of a hand that was scanned during the development of a personalized prosthetic.

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