Having recently visited the extraordinary Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, which charted the life of this trailblazing artist, I was struck by the numerous assistive technologies, including a prosthetic leg and engineered support-corset that empowered Kahlo to produce her ground-breaking art.

With more than 1 million limb amputations globally every year (that’s one every 30 seconds), producing more innovative and cost-effective prostheses is a global challenge. These revolutionary technologies have come a long way from the leather and steel of Kahlo’s devices. However, they have maintained the spirit of Kahlo: that a functional device can and, indeed, should be overflowing with personality. Crucially, the aesthetics and integrative qualities of assistive technology are now becoming top-of-mind for consumers. There are some brilliant examples of this being realised.

In a cross-fertilization of ideas, researchers from the Warwick Manufacturing Group have recently used scanning equipment - usually used for high-end car manufacturing - to ensure that material of for an innovative new prosthetic hip is optimized for integration into a patient’s body and preventing damage during scanning.

Elsewhere, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Foundation is using 3D printing to offer lightweight, well-fitted and custom designed devices to the 86,000 Syrians that have lost limbs during the conflict. The 3D scanning technology has allowed professionals from across the globe to collaborate in designing the prostheses and suggest treatment options. Such innovation and collaboration, not only represents a strategic implementation of expertise, but will hopefully ensure a brighter future for Syrian amputees.

Brands such as Alleles Design Studio and Bespoke Innovations, are making important strides in the world of prosthetics. Their prosthesis-cover designs are style-focused and consumer-led. Both have understood a basic human insight… People with disabilities haven’t lost their sense of style or taste. The recognition is basic but (unfortunately) still novel: people with disabilities are still people. We all want fun and style whether we wear clothes or clothes and prosthetics.

Just as the positioning of prescription glasses has moved from the clinical to the stylish accessory, the trend for medical devices to be more highly integrated into consumers’ lifestyles is evident across the healthcare industry. Brands should offer a tailored approach that makes healthcare solutions more human, injecting the consumer’s personality and lifestyle into the clinical solution. From slick, easy-to-understand interfaces on medical data apps, to subtle hospital beds designed for the home, consumers want their assistive tech to work well and look good.

Brands should focus on bringing more joy to the use and design of assistive tech, building products that empower consumers rather than being a dull, medical necessity.

BY ENGINEER Isobel McVey

isobel.mcvey@thevalueengineers.com