Under the auspices of the MIT D-Lab, I have co-instructed a course that centers around teaching low-cost prosthetic design for resource-constrained environments. Recently, the course has evolved into a fully immersive design experience that pairs student teams with real-life international stakeholders and industry partners. Following this structure, projects initiated as part of the course have been tested at field sites around the world, stimulated further research, advanced student careers, raised additional grant money, and generated peer-reviewed publications and intellectual property.
This course is a single-semester class meeting 2 hours once a week. Student progress unfolds in several key steps:
- Gain awareness of communities in the developing world and the socioeconomic, technological and other challenges they face
- Explore the approaches that MIT can take in order to design products for consumers in developing countries
- Learn about existing prosthetic technologies for these consumers, and their impact
- Reconstruct how these technologies were conceived, designed and implemented
- Identify limitations of these technologies and look for solutions to these problems – this constitutes the core aspect of the course
- Learn the hands-on skills required to implement selected prosthetic technology projects
- Understand the challenges of scaling and implementation of low-cost medical technologies in limited-resource settings
- Prototype prosthetic technology and evaluate
- Submit proposals for field-testing including timelines, on-ground partnerships, human subject research protocols, and budgets
- Execute field-testing plans and collect feedback
For the student projects, we instruct them to follow a clear design process from the beginning and require them to produce deliverables throughout the semester. This process is summarized in the figure below:
Beyond the design project, we actively recruit numerous guest speakers to give presentations on topics related to the course. This includes a local prosthetist who gives an interactive lecture on various aspects of his job, local entrepreneurs who have successfully started ventures related to global development, and speakers from across the academic community who discuss topics such as designing for scale, accessibility and distribution of medical devices, and advanced prosthetics research. We also coordinate interactive design sessions, one instance shown below, where we either encourage rapid prototyping or recruit industry mentors to provide feedback on the student projects.
One of the more unique aspects of the course is our close collaboration with industry. As an example, for the past two iterations of the course we have partnered extensively with Autodesk. This partnership has culminated in their offering multiple computer-aided design (CAD) and prototyping resources as well as fieldwork funding for our students. Our partnership extends beyond the classroom and the semester: Autodesk has invited our students for site visits to their new innovation space in Boston, and given them internship opportunities to continue their class team projects beyond the term. This has been a beneficial relationship for all parties involved, and we are extremely thankful for industry support.
International Field Testing Opportunities
We are fortunate to have several international programs at MIT that offer students the opportunity to live, work, and study abroad. One program, the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI), has been an exceptional partner to help us realize student international travel for prototype field-testing. One of our former students, Matthew Cavuto, was recently featured in MIT News in part for his work from the D-Lab course and with MISTI-India. Students have also raised funds through other university sources; one team, their story summarized here and pictured below, traveled to Ethiopia and Kenya to evaluate their class project.
- Faculty and staff of the MIT D-Lab
- Present instructors and teaching assistants; this includes David Sengeh, David Hill, Katy Olesnavage, Murthy Arelekatti, Ken Endo, Todd Farrell, Matthew Furtney, Matt McCambridge, Shriya Srinivasan, Matthew Chun, and Matthew Cavuto.
- Students who have taken this course, whose hard work and engagement have helped make this course successful.
- Invited experts and international partners who provide invaluable feedback for our students and help shape the direction of projects in the course; this includes but is not limited to Mobility India, the Jaipur Foot Organization, Refugee Open Ware, and Rogerson Prosthetics and Orthotics.
- MISTI-India, MISTI-Arab World, and the MIT Undergraduate Giving Campaign who have graciously provided funding to offset student travel costs for field testing.
- Autodesk, particularly our collaborators Sunand Bhattacharya and Erica Nwankwo, for their continued support of the course.
- Bryan J. Ranger and Aikaterini Mantzavinou. “A Course in Prosthetics for the Developing World: Merging Education, Research, and Industry to Teach Biomedical Design for Social Impact”. IEEE EMBS Conference (2017).