April 17, 2009

Stanford Students Design $20 Knee

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The schools of engineering and design at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, attract some of the most brilliant and innovative students from around the world. Now, a team of former students hope to give back a major gift to the developing world, in the form of a $20, high-performance prosthetic knee joint.

Joel Sadler was a student in a Stanford course on biomedical-device design and evaluation when he and his classmates were assigned the task of developing an inexpensive knee joint suitable for the developing world. Hoping for a better design than the currently available low-cost knees, the team perused the mechanics of high-end titanium knees available in the United States and the materials used to build low-cost prostheses in developing countries. The team then convened to create a self-lubricating knee joint designed to manage treks across rocky ground and sticky mud, and even up the sides of trees and rocks. Made of an oil-filled nylon polymer, the knee has been dubbed "the JaipurKnee" after the massively successful Jaipur Foot that was designed by P.K. Sethi in 1969 and is currently fitted on some 20,000 people per year.

"I came in to Stanford really hungry to find projects like the JaipurKnee Project," Sadler told the Stanford Report. "We're doing magical things in these classes," he continued.

The project was recently shown at Stanford's annual Cool Product Expo, alongside humanoid robots and a lamp that responds to human thought. Sadler, who is now a lecturer and d'Arbeloff Fellow at Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, brought the knee to the expo to bring public attention to the project. He called the effort, "a callout to our students to be thinking in the mode of, 'What am I doing in my education? How can I apply this to what I want to do in my life?'"

According to fastcompany.com, 43 of the knees are now in field testing in India. The team's preliminary goal is to produce and distribute 100,000 of the joints in the next three years, and Sadler has commented that he expects the $20 production cost to quickly drop even lower.

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