When I think of school projects, it usually involves gobs of construction paper, glue sticks, and an inordinate amount of swearing. When Joel Sadler and Eric Thorsell, two brilliant engineering grad students at Stanford, tackled their school project they created the Jaipur Knee, an extremely inexpensive ($20) prosthetic knee that mimics the natural joint’s movement and is both flexible and stable – a revolutionary improvement, particularly for amputees in developing countries.
The Jaipur Knee, was developed with the Jaipur Foot Organization BMVSS of India, as part of a Stanford initiative to bring technical engineering problem-solving to organizations like Jaipur Foot that have tremendous skills in outfitting the amputees with prosthetics– they just needed a better knee.
Because Joel was also taking courses at Stanford’s D School where methodology starts with a human understanding of a technical problem, Joel & Eric first traveled to India to meet their “consumer.” The tangible experience of what it means to be poor and disabled in a developing country, like their new friend 17-year old Kamal, profoundly influenced Joel and Eric and helped inform their ultimate design.
The beauty of the Jaipur Knee is its simplicity, but the process of discovery was long and arduous. Joel & Eric produced more than 50 prototypes of the device – beginning with foam core, hinges & duct tape (and quite possibly, an inordinate amount of swearing), before they settled on a 5-piece polycentric design made of hard plastic and four bolts, that 400 amputees in India are now using to walk, work, and live productive, dignified lives.
The Jaipur Knee has been recognized by Time magazine as one of the “Top 50 inventions of 2009″ and Joel & Eric have formed a new company Re:Motion Designs whose mission is to bring high-performance, low-cost prosthetics to the developing world. “There is no greater reward than to have something you’ve designed be used to change a life and enable someone to walk again,” says Joel.
In India alone, there are 1.6 million above-the-knee amputees who are candidates for the $20 Jaipur Knee, which is so cheap and easy to make, it can be manufactured locally in India – or Haiti – or anywhere that land mines, war and diabetes are taking limbs.
My $100 today goes to Joel Sadler and Eric Thorsell’s Re:Motion Designs in honor of their brilliant engineering and deep compassion.