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Prosthetic Flipper Turns Amputees Into Mermen

Swedish designer Richard Stark’s Neptune concept could help amputees swim.

Neptune prosthesis

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The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have produced untold numbers of fit, otherwise able-bodied amputees, and among the many vexing problems this has presented, there’s the simple matter of ergonomics: how to design prostheses for guys who are used to moving around all the time?

We’ve seen running legs galore — recall Oscar Pistorius’s pair, which naysayers said was too good — and some waterproof limbs for swimming. But Swedish designer Richard Stark‘s Neptune prosthesis is the first (that we’ve seen, any way) to turn man into fish.

The leg is actually a fin designed to balance out the power of the other leg. If you can imagine: Swimming with one leg is like rowing with one oar. It could also be used for bilateral amputees.

It works a lot like a standard prosthesis. Just slip the limp into an adjustable flower-shaped cup, then secure it into place. A slider adjusts the fin’s strength and give, and a folding joint can lock the fin straight, so you can swim freestyle, or at a 90-degree angle, for breaststroke. Check out a short video demonstration here:

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Though just a concept (designed in 10 weeks for a school project!), Neptune has tremendous potential for amputee vets and beyond. As Stark points out, the vast majority of limb loss results from diabetes, not trauma. The average amputee, then, is pretty unhealthy, so getting active is paramount. Swimming’s especially beneficial, because it’s easy on your body. The fin would address the obvious complications of paddling around with one or two missing legs.

Neptune prosthesis

It would also have implications for competitive swimming. Neptune would
be banned in races, says Stark, who consulted amputee swimmers to
develop the limb, but it has plenty of promise in practice. “If they
could activate the inactive limb, they would develop muscular strength
and mobility to use in competition,” he says. “So, even though you’re
not allowed to use one in the actual competition, you could use it as a
tool for training.”

Neptune prosthesis

[Via Yanko Design]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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