TritonDynamics swimming flipper

Designing a prosthetic of any kind is far from an easy task. But developing one with a pivoting ankle that’s functional enough to use in water? That requires serious research and development. Thankfully, with the help of 3D printing and Shapeways’ EDU program, Shawn Jones, a former design student at Northeastern University, has been able to take that concept and make it into a reality. Jones has plans to bring to market the swimming flipper, named Triton Dynamics, to enable below-the-knee amputees to swim again.

“My first goal was to create an entire prosthetic leg and flipper,” Jones told Shapeways. “This later turned into just developing a pivoting ankle with a mechanism to engage a flipper once in the water. After several years of research, we came to minimizing the swimming flipper due to the ergonomics of both walking and swimming. My team of engineers has concluded that the main pain points were the lack of spring while walking and the limited propulsion of the flipper while in the water.”

With the help of the EDU Grant

With his goals in place, Jones applied for and received an EDU grant from Shapeways. With the assistive funding he received, he was able to develop the first rotational device for the flipper.

“This item was very helpful for when I took it to Northeastern University’s Generate group. They are a student-run organization [that] help out entrepreneurs looking for engineering assistance. They were able to see what I originally designed and saw the actual 3D printed model. This helped them realize the design in a physical space as well as find out the areas of improvement in the design.”

Learning the complexity of 3D design

And although Jones had taken some 3D design courses while at Northeastern University, his experience in the craft was limited, meaning he had a lot to learn when tackling the prototype of Triton Dynamics.

3D rendering of one swimming flipper

3D rendering of the Triton Dynamics swimming flipper

“I did not spend a lot of time working in the 3D printing environment in college. This means I had to teach myself how to use the software and equipment. This took a lot of extra time. I also did not have a mechanical engineering background, so I had to search for a team of engineers who had the same passion for helping others. I luckily found a handful of students who I, today, continue to work on this project with.”

Now, after working with his time tirelessly on Triton Dynamics, he’s hoping to turn his project into a business.

Army veteran Christy Gardner of Lewiston, Maine, trying on the Triton flipper.

Army veteran Christy Gardner of Lewiston, Maine, trying on the Triton flipper.

“I am working on turning the project into a business now. This comes with patenting the prototype as well as making sure everything is FDA approved. This is all quite a new learning experience for me. I am hoping to get a final prototype finished by 2019.” he said.

Solid advice for aspiring designers like himself

In terms of advice for aspiring designers nervous about tackling the world of 3D printing, Jones said, “Don’t give up. It can be very frustrating starting off because every measurement has to be exact. Make sure you measure several times before sending it to the 3D printer. Remember that the material may expand during the process, so make the inverted piece a little smaller than the exact fit. I wish I knew that before I printed an entire project. Be creative, don’t let restraints get in your way. Always look for ways to push the limits of 3D printing.”

Jones added, “My research project showed me that what I was working on could be something worth continuing. I had a lot of positivity within the university and throughout the greater Boston area while working on this project. We want to truly enhance the health and well-being of below-the-knee amputees by giving them the opportunity to explore and continue aquatic activities as a means of physical and mental therapy and the enjoyment of life. Let’s help bring my wounded brothers and sisters back into the water.”

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