Devices & Diagnostics

Smart design meets affordability in an $80 prosthetic knee for amputees in poor countries

Prosthetic limbs have come a long way in look and functionality (there are even bionic legs)! But, unfortunately, there’s no way some of the people who could benefit most from them could ever afford that kind of advanced technology. A non-profit incubator called D-Rev is focused entirely on designing products for people living on less […]

Prosthetic limbs have come a long way in look and functionality (there are even bionic legs)!

But, unfortunately, there’s no way some of the people who could benefit most from them could ever afford that kind of advanced technology. A non-profit incubator called D-Rev is focused entirely on designing products for people living on less than $4 a day, and one of its projects is a sleek and functional $80 leg prosthetic for above-knee amputees.

In some developing countries, the best option for amputees is a bamboo staff to walk with, D-Rev CEO Krista Donaldson said in a recent TED talk, so this kind of product could be the difference between working and having a social life or not.

Around the 4:30 mark of the talk, she shows video of a man walking with a cheap, single-axis knee prosthesis currently on the market, and then a man walking with the ReMotion Knee. The difference is pretty amazing.

More than 5,000 amputees have been fitted for the knee, and Donaldson said nearly 80 percent of them are still wearing it six months later.

Donaldson pointed out a few keys to designing a product that will be able to reach the users who need it, no matter how low their income:

  1. It needs to perform as well as or better than products on the market, in both technical performance and human performance.  Most medical devices are designed for Westerners, Donaldson explained, but D-Rev’s customers do different things like squat, kneel in prayer and sit cross-legged more often.
  2. Designers must not be user-centered but user-obsessed, considering the experience of everyone who’s going to touch the product.
  3. It needs to be market-driven instead of relying on being donated or heavily subsidized. In order to create impact, it should create actual value to the end user while also being affordable.