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Engineering students design affordable prosthetics to help amputees in war-torn countries

Kingetics Senior team
The senior design team — nicknamed "Kingetics" — of mechanical engineering students Alex Wakeman, John Hoekman, Mark Gronowski and Paul Kerauma (left to right), with faculty adviser Todd Letcher (middle), look over building materials for their prosthetic.

In the developing world, it is estimated that over 40 million people live with amputated limbs stemming from health complications or trauma. Unfortunately, only 2 million of them have access to prosthetics that could help them live a better and more comfortable life.


Prosthetics are expensive, and for many people in the developing world, they are far too costly to even be considered a feasible option.

Student with prosthetic
Paul Kerauma explains the energy transfer the prosthetic provides. 

A team of South Dakota State University mechanical engineering students has worked to solve this problem by developing a cheap and affordable prosthetic that can be made and built with materials that are readily available around the world.

"We want anyone around the world to use this, whether they are coming from a war-torn country or they just come from lesser means," said Alex Wakeman, one of the team's members. "If you lose a leg, the prosthetics on the market are very expensive right now."

Since last fall, the senior design team Kingetics, composed of Wakeman, Mark Gronowski, John Hoekman and Paul Kerauma, has been researching, designing and then building a prototype prosthetic leg from nuts, bolts, aluminum sheets, cylindrical pylon and delrin plastic. The design requires only simple tools to put together — a hammer, a jigsaw and a drill — and doesn't require any welding. 

"The first thing we had to think of was simple. We needed something that anyone could put together no matter what their background was," Wakeman said. "If all the pieces are ready and the holes are there, it will take about 10 minutes to assemble."

The total cost for the prosthetic is roughly $70 — far cheaper than a direct competitor, which sells for around $3,000.

"Its cost-effective design ensures that essential prosthetic care remains accessible to all," Hoekman said.

The team incorporated a patented foot design from Rapid City-based podiatrist Steven King, who sponsored the project. The students then expanded on the design to fit their specific ideas. They found the patented dual-lever system creates an efficient energy transfer with each step.

"The insole technology improves pressure dissipation across the entire foot by transferring the loads off the high-pressure areas of the foot and distributing the load out the spring lever mechanism over a greater ground contact area," Gronowski explained. 

At the end of the semester, the team presented its work at SDSU's Engineering Expo.

Prosthetic creation
Senior Mark Gronowski (seated) assembles the prosthetic while Alex Wakeman looks on. 

"The most fun day of the year is the engineering expo," said Todd Letcher, the team's adviser and an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. "They show off their project to all their friends, family and visitors and get to explain all the hard work they did all year long."

The team's future plans are to publish a research paper showcasing the science and results of their work.

"From these tests, we have proved that our design is able to provide an equal, or in some cases better, alternative to the overpriced, complex lower-leg prosthetics currently being used," Kerauma said. "The Kingetics prosthetic also can be made for a significantly lower price and is simple enough that anyone of any technical experience can build it."