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Heroes

The best new prosthetic for children isn't made from newfangled metals. It's made out of Legos.

A scientist at a Swedish university has developed a prototype for kids to build their own prosthetic limbs and fight disability stigmas at the same time — using Legos.

Dario is an 8-year old boy living in Colombia.

GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.


He really really really likes robots.


GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.

He has a congenital malformation in his right forearm, which requires him to wear a prosthetic.

GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.

There are many kids like Dario in Colombia, which inspired industrial designer Carlos Torres to build a new prosthetic just for them.

Having himself been raised in war-torn Colombia, Torres witnessed firsthand how an armed conflict can destroy civilian lives. While Dario was born with his condition, there are hundreds of other children in Colombia who are permanently injured by land mines and other collateral damage from the war each year.

“The needs of a disabled child are many of course," Torres observed in his thesis statement at Sweden's Umeå Institute of Design. “The physiological needs of replacing a lost part of their body is one of the priorities, but taking a look at this phenomena through the eyes of the armed conflict shows that the psychosocial needs are a big part of a person in disability."


GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.

Torres' new prototype allows kids to hack, create, and customize their own prosthetic limbs ... with Legos.

Torres is hardly the first person to implement the educational value of Legos in a practical application, but his method is certainly unique. With support from Lego and CIREC, a Colombian nonprofit that supports people with disabilities and victims of armed conflict, he developed a Lego-integrated prototype called the IKO prosthetic system (which, as Carlos explained via email, "is the way that little kids say Me in the Netherlands").

Visible disabilities can have a serious impact on kids' socialization and self-esteem — and, by extension, their overall psychological development. But like any good engineer, Torres did his due diligence and organized a series of controlled experiments to observe Dario's socialization and self-esteem in relation to his friends and family while using the IKO prototype to build Lego attachments on his arm.


GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.

The IKO prosthetic also encourages confidence and creativity while fighting back against disability stigmas.

In both situations, Dario's improved confidence was readily apparent. He was warm, welcoming, and collaborative, and he easily transitioned into a leadership role, as if having the Lego set attached to his body gave him a feeling of ownership and pride. There were still some difficulties, of course, but at no point did he seem frustrated or ready to give up. In fact, his school friend Santiago, after previously expressing pity for Dario's condition, began to envy his friend's new toy: “I want one of those. I think his new arm is cool!"


GIF from Umeå Institute of Design.

(Admittedly, Santiago may not have grasped the full complexity of the situation. But it's still a nice thought.)

This is just one piece of a larger project that looks into the developmental psychology of children who were born with a missing limb or have since lost one.

It's difficult for children with disabilities to develop alongside their peers when they have to compensate for anxiety and a feeling of otherness. While the IKO prototype is currently designed only for upper limb disabilities, it still goes a long way toward restoring not only the practical functionality of a missing or malformed limb, but also a child's confidence, by encouraging their educational development through creative exploration.

Frankly, what kid wouldn't want a cybernetic Lego arm attachment?


GIF from "The Lego Movie."

In his preliminary interviews, 8-year-old Dario makes it clear that he does not like superheroes. Yes, he loves adventure stories, but he prefers machinery, robots, and spaceships to chiseled men with superhuman abilities. In this way, Dario is a lot like Emmet from "The Lego Movie," in his quest to become "The Special." It doesn't matter that the prophecy of "The Special" isn't true — all Emmet needs to become a hero is for someone to show him that he can be one.

For Dario, his favorite stories allow him to see a reflection of himself and the actualization of his own potential. The IKO prosthetic system is just another way to help him and other kids like him get there.


GIF from "The Lego Movie."

Watch the full video from Carlos Arturo Torres' prototype project below:

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