A Swimming Prosthetic & Swimwear
I am an avid swimmer and for a time I took for granted my ability to swim.
It baffled me, in today’s technologically advanced world, when I found out that there are no prosthetic to help an amputee to swim. Knowing this encouraged me to think of an answer and I found it in Elle.
With Elle, I was inspired to find innovative solutions to help those with physical disabilities. As a designer, one of my core believes have always been to improve lives and potentials of the users.
UNIQUE PROPERTIES / PROJECT DESCRIPTION:
Elle is a combination of a prosthetic leg and a swimwear that is designed to optimize amputee’s swimming experience by achieving balance, maximizing energy return from launch off and flip-turns, and supporting the body through the latest technology. Elle is geared to assist single-leg amputees to compete with able-bodied swimmers.
Currently, elle is the only prosthetic that address the needs in swimming specifically.
OPERATION / FLOW / INTERACTION:
Below are the challenges and how Elle solves it:
1. Balance - Amputees find it difficult to swim in streamlined position. A human leg has a specific volume and density which attributes to our balance; the loss of a leg will result in imbalanced buoyancy due to unequal upward water pressure between left and right side of the body.
Elle leg provides an adjustable air chamber to control buoyancy and help amputees to maintain their streamlined position in the water. Elle’s frame will be personalized to match the volume of the amputee’s other leg. In addition, Elle swimwear is made out of woven elastane-nylon and polyurethane, a material that repels water to increase buoyancy.
2. Multifunction - There are 3 phases in a swimming competition: launching off, swimming, and flip turning. Each phase requires a different energy release profile.
Elle leg has a flexed ankle made out of a metal plate to increase energy return, interchangeable to match an individual’s strength, and Elle swimwear has an elastic band on the back, which will helps users launch off with reduced energy loss.
3. Comfort - Since the leg will have to move both rapidly and regularly, it is important to ensure comfort by having a tight fit between the stump and the prosthetic.
Elle leg comes with a vacuum socket that reduces pain and improves endurance.
PROJECT DURATION AND LOCATION:
The project started in August 2013 in Los Angeles, the concept is finished in December 2014. First phase prototype finished in February 2015. The full-functional prototyping process is on going currently.
FITS BEST INTO CATEGORY:
Scientific Instruments, Medical Devices and Research Equipment Design
PRODUCTION / REALIZATION TECHNOLOGY:
Elle is 3D printed, adjusted to one’s measurement to create the perfect balance. The main structure is made of a carbon fiber and carbon nanotube composite. The vacuum socket is made of a thermoplastic polypropylene, while the flexed ankle is fabricated from a metal plate, and the socket that covers the flexed ankle is made of silicone.
SPECIFICATIONS / TECHNICAL PROPERTIES:
The prosthetic is tailor to one's size.
prosthetic, swimming, innovation, product
The first step in research process was to gather information on swimming process. There are 3 main stages in swimming, which are: launching off, swimming, and flipping turn. Each of this stage requires different, specific needs.
Second was the interview process to gather insights and challenges of the amputees. The interview was done with 3 people with three different backgrounds:
· Kenneth, a swimming instructor with over 20 years of experience, demonstrated to me that finding balance is key in swimming, streamline posture is difficult to maintain with missing bones.
· Vardan, a prosthetist, emphasized the importance of comfort; tight, comfortable fit between the stump and the prosthetic ensures user’s comfort in swimming.
· Rose, a single leg amputee swimmer and prosthetic user, informed me on the significance of endurance in competitive swimming. Rigorous physical exertion is required to maintain consistency and swimming is an activity that involves the entire body.
Third is the ideation and development process through sketches; the ideas were shared with these three experts in order to receive their feedback.
Their feedbacks allowed me to develop the fourth phase, which is the prototyping stage where the ideas are realized and tested with Rose. The prototyping stage tested 2 ideas:
· Air chamber, tested with floating foam and chosen because it can easily be cut and adjusted to Rose’s capacity. The air chamber was successfully tested; it improved buoyancy and helped achieve a streamline position.
· Flexed ankle made with a piece of metal; the main function is to replace the missing ankle and support user in 3 different phases of swimming. The prototyping process was successful and validated the importance of air chamber and flexed ankle.
· After taking into Rose’s feedback, latest stage is refinement process which focus mainly on material/production detail and form design.
Translating my ideas into a functional prototype in hand. This phase requires multiple iterations and understandings in mechanical knowledge. I received many valuable suggestions from many colleagues that support my research and refine the concept.
That being said, often times these feedbacks contradicted one another and it was a great challenge taking them into account and formulating the ideal resolution. It was challenge because they were excellent feedbacks coming from various experts in the subjects, from veteran swimming instructor to professional orthotheist, but in the end I made the right decision to develop the most promising concept.
TEAM MEMBERS (1) :
Photographer: Eric Chang