Arun Joshua Cherian, Founder and CEO at RISE Bionics, delivered the 2023 S.M. Wu Distinguished Lecture in Manufacturing on Friday, November 17, 2023. Cherian’s lecture, “Scalable Digital Fabrication of Assistive Devices in Resource Constrained Ecosystems,” explored today’s manufacturing challenges and how flexible processes can help to address the needs of low-income and rural communities across the world.
Only 5-15% of patients have access to assistive devices in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC). Cost, lack of services in the area and transport are the three top barriers to accessing such devices. In most of these countries, Insurance does not cover assistive technology and government schemes provide basic configuration which does not adequately serve the complexities of an individual’s medical needs.
Despite the advent of 3d printing, CADCAM and other digital technologies there hasn’t been a significant breakthrough in making assistive devices accessible and affordable. It is a challenge to effectively operationalize digital fabrication for prosthetics and orthotics within the challenges of a limited resources ecosystem, be it sheer number of devices, unit economics, turnaround time; let alone other metrics such as ease of use of technology for adoption by stakeholders, serviceability of digital infrastructure, training of personnel and use of indigenous resources.
Rise Bionics has developed a local full stack CADCAM solution to strengthen existing local healthcare facilities to provide assistive devices for the whole body, as per prescription i.e. Cranial orthotics, spinal braces, upper and lower extremity prosthetics and orthotics. We upskill local medical professionals to scan patients at their home or local hospital. The device is centrally manufactured as per prescription to sub-millimeter accuracy. The device is shipped to the local hospital to be fitted and serviced by the medical professional. Costs are contained by recycling the foam blanks and the technology is licensed to the local facility. We have completed Pan India Pilot project with the Indian central government, and have provided over 1000 devices to corporate hospitals, community clinics and not-for profit organizations. We are now working to enable other LIMC countries to provide affordable and accessible assistive devices to the public.
A recording U-M ME 2023 S.M. Wu Distinguished Lecture in Manufacturing featuring Arun Cherian is available now. Photos of the event can be viewed on the U-M Mechanical Engineering’s Flickr page.
Arun graduated from Columbia University, New York in Robotics and went on to UC Berkeley as Research Scholar to study the biomechanics of animal and robot locomotion, where he developed multiple generations of exoskeletal suits. He went on to do a PhD in Purdue developing soft exoskeletal suits by weaving shape memory alloy with Kevlar using ancient Chinese weaving techniques.
Observing the unmet demand for affordable prosthetics for active people in countries such as India, Arun dropped out of his PhD program to pursue his dream of making high quality assistive devices affordable and accessible to all. He worked with local cane artisans and following extensive research and testing, developed an affordable yet high-quality flexible prosthetic leg out of cane which was very successful with users. At the Cybathlon in Zurich in 2016, athletes wearing these cane legs won positions in all the events they participated in, finishing ahead of athletes wearing expensive German, Japanese and American prosthetics.
In a further endeavor to make such assistive devices accessible to people across the country especially in smaller and remote cities, towns and villages, Arun (through his start-up Rise Bionics in Bangalore) developed a digital fabrication protocol whereby they are able to equip hospitals/ clinics across the country to digitally scan a body to make custom bionics (prosthetics and orthotics for the head, spine, hand and leg) with remarkable accuracy. The custom devices are made by Rise centrally in Bangalore using the scans in just a matter of a few hours, and shipped to these hospitals/centres for fitting locally. Arun is a scale up fellow at MIT, Boston’s DLab and has consulted for various organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Arun strives to use principles of design and technology to build thriving value-driven organizations. For instance, through his company Rise Bionics, while serving the government (through ALIMCO), international and corporate hospitals; he also created a sponsorship program called ‘Help a Child Walk’ that provides much needed custom bionics to hundreds of special needs children from Below Poverty Line free of cost. These devices are delivered in a matter of days instead of the long wait these patients are accustomed to.
This event was sponsored by the Sam and Daisy Wu Foundation.