Visions from the future: how technology could enhance prosthetics

Visions from the future: how technology could enhance prosthetics

artisan recently caught up with Wear Next_ artist Troy Baverstock to discuss the influences behind his interdisciplinary design practice. Fascinated by human nature, technology and the future, Troy strives to create thoughtful products that awaken the imagination.

His recent product, limbU, features in our latest exhibition Wear Next_. limbU is a 3D printed and aesthetically design attachment for prosthetic legs that functions as a medical diagnostic tool, activity tracker, phone charger and personal entertainment system. Keen to hear more about Troy’s designs, we sat down to ask him some questions!


Q: What first attracted you to the design field having previously studied in the sciences?

A: My previous studies have been in the fields of health science, engineering and psychology, which although unplanned have synergistically aided my design endeavours. I have always enjoyed building things. That act of transforming imagination into reality is at the core of design and one I find deeply rewarding.

Q: You work across diverse areas of design. What common interests connect your pursuits?

A: In my pursuits I attempt to improve upon or add new dimensions to existing products and believe our devices should free us to be more human. While I haven’t yet settled on a consistent theme among my own designs, I often employ a blend of traditional and digital craft focused around 3D-printing, laser cutting, smart electronics and woodworking.

Q: Your work limbU is a 3D-Printed prosthetic device featured in our current exhibition, Wear Next_. What is it about the medium of 3D-printing that interests you and what role do you see it as having in design in the future?

A: 3D-printing is breaking down the barrier between the digital and the physical, allowing us to create and invent one step closer to the speed of our imagination. Products no longer need to appeal to the masses to be worthy of production or exploration. 3D-printing literally breaks the mould, allowing customisation, novelty and complexity at reduced cost. 3D-printing is a technology that will one day become ubiquitous and indispensable in our everyday lives – design will be no exception to this as it redefines what is possible.

Q: What inspired the aesthetic details of limbU such as it curved lattice design?

A: The lattice covers are an adaption from a Queenslander’s breezeway (the lattice that sits above the doors inside old Queenslander houses). I admire the extra work and care that goes into producing these for such a functional purpose, a creative flourish in an otherwise everyday setting.

Q: What potential do you see for design and science/medicine to work together to mutually benefit each other?

A: Design is a system of thought, a way of approaching and solving a need or problem that could equally benefit any field. In terms of a product, good design is about communicating to people and is especially important in the fields of science and medicine whose discoveries and applications are often underutilised in everyday life.

Q: In your opinion, what sets limbU apart from other prosthetic rehabilitation devices, and do you wish to develop the product further?

A: Traditional prosthetic devices seek to mimic the function of a biological limb, while limbU explores the possibilities beyond replacement. Form and function should be a minimum requirement and while limbU is not the first to lend an aesthetic element to otherwise utilitarian designs, it does question what else could be gained in the process. I hope to find an opportunity in my studies to develop the concept further. limbU was made over a year ago which has given me time to re-imagine it in many different ways.

Q: Where do you see wearable technology going and what consequences come with wearable technologies?

A: In prosthetic devices I see the technology improving until the ability of such a limb will outperform its biological counterpart. When you consider the extra functions that technology may add, it will become a question of which limb is more useful in our modern lives. The ethical and social questions of such ‘optional upgrades’ will no doubt be disruptive, but are ultimately ones for a future world very different from our own.

Image: Troy Baverstock, limbU, 2015.