May 15, 2015 — Tiny, a three-legged golden retriever born with a deformed right front leg, has a new prosthetic leg thanks to a computer science class at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
Through Xavier's newly-opened Center for Innovation, students in Gary Lewandowski’s “Human-Centered Making” course fitted Tiny with a 3-D-printed prosthetic leg. The center, which opened in February, has 31 3-D printers.
Tiny is a service dog for 4 Paws for Ability, an organization that provides aid to children worldwide. When Tiny’s handler at 4 Paws contacted Xavier in March about Tiny's need for a leg, the 3-D-printer-equipped team barely knew where to start. It's one thing to craft a 3-D-printed item, quite another to make it a functioning part of a living creature.
Fortunately for the students and faculty at the center, prosthetics professional and Xavier alum Christine Geeding came to the rescue. Geeding brought her expertise to the classroom as the students brainstormed for several weeks. “It was fascinating to explore 3-D printing and how it relates to prosthetics,” Geeding said.
The students worked with Geeding, but ultimately created their own design. Geeding approves of the final product, a spongy sleeve cupped inside a plastic support with an adjustable length. The foot, after many attempts to find a way to cushion the leg like a paw, is a plunger. Using the center's 3-D printers, students were able to fit Tiny with a flexible inner liner as well as a rigid frame for the prosthetic. They then monitored Tiny's first steps to assess the harness suspension and alignment.
According to Geeding, Tiny is adapting to the prosthetic well. "Tiny did more than we ever expected," said Mary Curran-Hackett from the Center for Innovation. "Her quick adjustment to the prosthetic was incredible."
Though the prosthetic itself is still slightly rudimentary, it's the culmination of six weeks of hard work from the students, who will make length and fit adjustments based on their observations of Tiny. The hope is the prosthetic will give Tiny extra support so she can become a full-fledged service dog. She will begin more intensive training in the next few months.
“I love that we are able to make something for a dog; maybe in the future for a human. Something that we can program and make on a computer,” said Xavier student Alex Miliken.