USING his interest in bio-augmentation through 3-D printing, Dustin Headley and the 27 students in his second-year undergraduate product design studio class worked with six clients who are leg amputees to design a cover made from flexible resins and plastics — or "skin" — that could become part of their prosthetic.
Groups of four or five students were assigned to each client, who they interviewed to find out how they feel about their prosthetics and what they would like for their "skins." Each client also had his or her intact leg scanned so the students could mirror that leg's geometry in their "skin" designs for the prosthetic limbs. It was up to Headley to act as engineer of the designs, taking them from concept to reality using 3-D printing.
Among the clients is a mom with two children who is getting two "skins": a durable one to wear for her outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking and playing soccer with her kids, and a more decorative "skin" for formal activities, such as going out to dinner.
Another client is a double amputee who is a student in college and takes part in many physical activities. "He makes everybody who has legs embarrassed because he is so active," Professor Headley said. "He rock climbs, mountain bikes, wrestles, does jiujitsu." This client was interested in a design that would allow him to cross his legs in a job interview — despite the long pylons in his prosthetics, and also design also had to be suitable to wearing shorts.
The project showed students how design skills can be used to solve problems — and lead to new career possibilities as well.
"The design discipline is a generalist endeavor anyway," Professor Headley said. "You are taking these disparate problems and issues and trying to create logical solutions. You have to select variables and find ways to engage. That's the skill set all of the students are getting trained for. It doesn't need to be limited to making products that go to market or making architectural space. We can do way more."