March 23rd, 2012
10:06 AM ET

Turning prosthetic limbs into art

Editor's note: Scott Summit is founder and Chief Technology Officer of Bespoke Innovations, a company that designs artful coverings around prosthetic legs to make them unique and express individuality. CNN’s The Next List is celebrating the wonders of prosthetic innovation by profiling Hugh Herr, bionic man, on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Scott Summit, Special to CNN

I’ve always loved the work of the artists who consider the human form as their inspiration. Henry Moore, Giacometti, Brancusi – all interpret the body into their works. But that is fine art, and it seems that, all too often, there exists an impenetrable divide between the arts and the more utilitarian mindset which often drives the products we surround ourselves with. I have always wondered why it is, however, that certain fields cannot infuse both design and utility and artfully marry them to a more suitable outcome.

Specifically, I feel that any product that is medical or corrective becomes a necessary augment to the body, and therefore, should live up to that role. It should respect the user, and offer to them all the quality of living and self esteem that it is able. Its success should be measured in terms beyond merely the pragmatic, but should aim to enhance the user’s quality of living in every way possible.

I set out to create an option for an amputee that invites an individual personality and taste to play the dominant role in the design process. The goal is to transform a product from something that certain people need into something that they love.

The resulting process is one where the ‘sound side’ leg (or ‘surviving leg’) is three-dimensionally scanned, mirrored, and digitally superimposed over the prosthetic limb to serve as reference geometry for the design process to follow. By doing this, we recreate symmetry to the body and guarantee that no two creations can be identical. We then invite user preference in patterns, design, and materials to drive the form-giving. Finally, we three-dimensionally ‘print’ the parts using a variety of new technologies in this area.

The resulting ‘fairings’ (a word we borrow from the motorcycle world, describing the parts which give it contour and form) relate to the body and mind in ways that a more utilitarian prosthetic leg typically cannot. They express the individuality of the wearer in whatever way they prefer. I like to believe that they connect the prosthetic leg to the user in ways that go beyond mere functionality.

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Filed under: Art • Innovation • The Next List • Thinkers • Video
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  18. lizzie

    Dave, I am a Prosthetist. I work with amputees and provide prosthetic limbs to patients as job. This means I make a living off of this, and it pays my bills.
    The field is a rapidly growing one (in part due to changing technologies but also because of the marked increase in the rate of diabetes). Medicare sets the rules in terms of what price must be paid for a prosthesis, and the business owners make a profit. The have to in order to justify staying in business, in order to pay the wages of the clinical staff and (most importantly) in order to continue making prostheses for people. And yet I can assure you that every person in this field (including the business owners) got into it because they wanted to help people, and not because they wanted to profit off of other peoples disability.
    But we all need to make a living.
    I feel like most people would appreciate it if you would just get off of your moral high horse and quit spouting off about things that, unless you are an amputee or a friend/relative of one, are none of your business or not relevant to you. No body appreciates your self righteous and irrelevant blubber, and we especially don't appreciate you applying mass generalizations and stereotypes to a generation you are not a part of and therefore, arguably, know less about than those in it.
    For the record i'm 26 years old. I love my patients, and they like me. And they aren't offended that I pay my bills with my salary, they're just glad to have a leg and a clinician who cares about them. And they'd be even happier if i offered them the option of having an artist come and make their leg more cosmetic than what I can. I think they would be bitterly disappointed to find that the option was no longer available because Scott went out of business because he couldn't fund the cosmetic legs out of his own pocket.

    March 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
    • Deanna D. Hamilton

      setting down watching your show on tv it hit me. Time for me come out do something for me self i have no help trying find someone to help me with getting a prosthetic limb for my right leg obove my knee please can u help me. I live in ada okla.Tired of being over weight i need to run very hard or just walking would do just find. Thanks u love Deanna Hamilton. God bless

      August 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  19. Debbie

    What a wonderful and brilliant idea! Having a prosthesis that has the same symentry as the remaining limb would give the amputee more of a sense of normalcy. We've come a long way since prosthetic arms had hooks where the hands would be. This is a great development toward normalcy and helping the patient regain self-confidence.

    March 27, 2012 at 12:19 am | Reply
    • Greg

      Agreed... However I am a double above the knee amputee from wounds in Afghanistan. I have no remaining leg to mimic. This clip showed only single, below the knee amputees which is awesome and all, but I'd like to know what is out there for me. I'd love to have a similar sense of "normalcy."

      March 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Reply
      • Sara

        Hi Greg, – You should contact the company, I know they've done work for double amputees as well.

        March 28, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  20. bernagora

    Really cool. I'm going to start painting mine. But please consider the costs of the technology – mine is $5000, I don't need ankle flexibility though I play a lot of sports. The recycled ones go to landmine victims in Africa. In Kenya, a specialist tells me, they have models with plastic (PET I think), which can be heated and molded again for any adjustment, at a hundredth the cost. Could also be great for art.

    March 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
  21. Nadine Thompson

    I know I am probably asking the impossible but I always ask. My husband has had four strokes. We are now home doing the therapy ourselves and have been told that we are maintaining with not a lot of hope that he will ever walk again. Will any of this technology ever help my husband? Some days I am so desperate for improvement.

    March 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  22. ArtBrit

    What a wonderful story.

    March 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  23. Kary

    I have a prosthesis that actually looks like a real leg. It has all the components that you often see but it is covered with a foam that is carved to the shape of my residual limb. It then has a cover over the foam that is the color of my skin. It looks so real and when I where capri pants or shorts, most people are astounded when they find out that it's not real. Personally I don't understand why most people don't opt for a cosmetic cover instead of the components that draw attention to the fact that it is a prosthesis.

    March 24, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
    • Ron Dodson

      I understand where your coming from. However I have been a BK amputee since 1969. Because of a deformed foot at birth I was amputated at age 6. I've always had the cosmetic look. This year for the first time I ve decided to go personal. I seeked out a airbrush artist that agreed to do a Christian theme of the Lion & the lamb. I can't wait to see the finished product.

      August 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  24. Harley Charley

    Having lost my leg in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, I think I can speak with some authority on this subject. I have painted various designs om my prosthetic since the beginning. At first to "hide"the ugliness but later to show my personality. I always wear shorts as long pants are too constraining. I am a hot rodder, or car nut and my prosthetic is currently painted flat black with Old School red and white pin striping. I know people stare, but at least they have something artistic to look at. I say way to go Scott.

    March 24, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  25. Linda Luttrell

    After all the bad news I've seen today, this article was so inspiring to read! Maybe those of you who are so insenstive to these issues gave the artist some of his inspiration. You certainly make me so glad I was brought up not to stare and make fun of those with disabilities. Bravo Scott, I wish you all the best. You are beautiful!

    March 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  26. iriagb

    Reblogged this on Minutiaes and commented:
    I think this is really cool!!... A nice example of creative innovation

    March 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  27. Jim

    My wife is 72 years old and had both legs amputated below the knee almost three years ago. I feel sorry for the people who write negative comments and hope they never have to go thru something like this. They might not have the courage to keep living. It would be easy to lay in bed and feel sorry for yourself. Instead my wife puts her legs on and proudly goes out in public. I am even more proud to be with her. She never tries to hide her prosthetics because as i tell her they are a badge of courage. We have been married for 54 years and she is the most incredible strong person I have ever known. Making negative comments is an insult to all the brave people moving on with their lives.

    March 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply
  28. ResidualLimb

    Scott Summit- Thank you! This is very exciting, and your use of technology to make the world a better place is truly inspiring. Bravo! Many blessings for future success!

    March 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  29. Daveisanass

    yeah....what an ass. My guess is that you are 15 and don't have a girlfriend.

    March 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  30. Claudia

    This just blew me away. The problem with old-style prosthetics isn't just that they're ugly, it's that they LOOK like something that came out of a hospital and would, I imagine, tend to make the wearer feel like a perpetual patient, constantly reminded of his or her disability, with an alien medical device that had no relation to his or her body. I hope this option is fully available to the tens of thousands of young men and women who have been maimed in our two decade-long wars–they surely deserve nothing less!

    March 24, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • mizh

      I couldn't have said it better myself, Claudia. Thank you.

      March 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  31. cjk

    Sounds like Dave needs a hug.

    March 24, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  32. Linda

    I don't know why this took so long. How cool is that giving people something to feel proud of. Something pleasing to the eye. I love the art work they put into this. I wouldn't even mind wearing shorts with this. Well done!

    March 24, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  33. brent

    Very cool

    March 24, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  34. Angela Kim

    Now this is just GROSS!

    March 24, 2012 at 10:48 am | Reply
    • nicolina

      you're an idiot

      March 24, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Linda


      March 24, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
    • ResidualLimb

      Angela Kim– You should know that your comments could be very hurtful to someone who's lost a limb. These are often men and women who have served their countries in times of war, children who have lost their legs to cancer, babies born without limbs, adults who have diabetes and poor blood circulation to their extremities, and others who have simply been in traumatic accidents. Let's all hope that no one you love ever loses a limb, because it seems to me that you would stop loving them. Perhaps you should go volunteer at a rehab hospital, so you can see what beautiful, strong, lovely people you're judging. I'll say a prayer for you that your shallow soul can find love somewhere in it.

      March 24, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
      • Deanna D. Hamilton

        I lost my right leg in a car accident just need some help please if u can that would be wonderful. God bless u. cell ph. 580-399-3325.

        August 26, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Andy

      you are ignorant, Angela.

      March 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
      • mizh

        Andy, haven't you realized by now there's a LOT of ignorance in today's world? Rest assured that their ignorance will eventually catch up to them... then the herd will be thinned. Cheers!

        March 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Dave B in MN

      Angela, you are a terrible person. These artsy prosthetics are pretty effin cool.

      March 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • Josh

      Good thing for mouth breathers like Angela that breathing doesn't require intelligence. You are the reason that our collective IQ is ever-so-quickly eroding away. Stop posting your "thoughts" they are an assault on the population. Oh and also, get bent!

      March 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • Peter kelly

      You are a coward Angela Kim. A simple minded coward....

      March 25, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
  35. santana

    Wow, fantastic!

    March 24, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
  36. stevensb

    Forehead slap !!!!! Jeeeezzzz , what a brilliant and wonderful idea . Coolest thing I've heard about in a long time .
    Hats off to ya buddy !!!!!!!!!

    March 24, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
  37. Bessy

    Genius. Just the fact that he scans the good leg to create the symmetry and realism in the prosthetic is probably very beneficial for the patient's mental health/recovery.

    March 24, 2012 at 10:18 am | Reply
  38. Mary

    I think that's wonderful that prosthetics are starting to become more artful. If I were to lose a limb, it would be great to have something a little classy. As humans we're meant to adapt anyway but it's hard to adapt when you have a prosthetic that looks kinda wierd at first, but as long as it is useful who cares really. But the artful approach will help improve their self esteem I think.

    March 24, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
  39. frank

    very very cool, now how about a utility kit, tools, add a charger that powers your iphone off the kinetic energy of walking? You got a lot of room to add stuff there that can make them even better!!!! wonderful ideas!!!

    March 24, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply
  40. palintwit

    Bristol Palin writes a letter to Obama and asks him to call her ??!!!!!!! Bwaaahahahahahhhaha !!!! I'll bet he just ran to the phone !!! Bwaahahahhaahhaha !!! Right !! And that dipsh!t mother of her's is talking to the queen of England !!!! Bwaahahahahaaaaaaaa !!! Or maybe the pope !!!!!! Bwahahahahaaaaaaa !!! If I was a teabagger or a republican I'd be so embarrassed...

    March 24, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
    • Doug Altman

      Do you have so much hate that you have to respond like a twit in this article?

      March 24, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
  41. Victor

    I absolute love this idea! I would hate to lose a limb, and I feel for those who have... but to be able to replace the old prosthetic with something chic and classy is an amazing concept. I'm a bit of a gamer so forgive the reference but my thoughts immediately took me to some of the art by Wizards of the Coast:

    March 24, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
  42. elyssa

    Awesome...the world needs more people with truly innovative ideas like this. People who direct their efforts in a direction that is actually beneficial to society! More power to you, Scott.

    March 24, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
  43. meghan

    wonderful idea! i feel certain that finding a limb that fits the personality of the patient will greatly improve the mindset an amputee is in following their surgery.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:38 am | Reply
  44. K.B.

    Fantastic idea !The very best of luck in your endeavor.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
  45. Andrew

    This beautiful and wonderful! I think the idea is so obvious, yet must not have been (I sure didn't think of it, and I see amputees fairly frequently). Incredible and beautiful!
    Salute to Scott and his team!

    Dave needs a prosthetic brain...

    March 24, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  46. Jim

    Healing from a life threatening disease or healing from the loss of a limb involves "healing the mind" as well as healing the body. I know , I'm a three time cancer survivor with physical impairments.....

    I applaud this work because it obviously will help to assist the patient in healing and recovery.

    Anyone who attacks these efforts simply does not understand the process of total recovery.

    All recovery involves a positive consciousness ..... that is true for the individual as well as the world.

    March 24, 2012 at 8:03 am | Reply
  47. Dave

    Scott Summit..........................M O R O N.

    March 24, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • Shannon

      Why is he a moron? What an awesome idea to allow people to customize their prosthetics. Why should they have to wear some utilitarian ugly thing when they can help design what they wear?

      March 24, 2012 at 7:48 am | Reply
      • Dave

        The article is moronic.Maybe they can make glass eyes look like the terminators..........Freedom of speech Shannon. If he can write it I can criticize it.

        March 24, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Skip

      Uhh...Daves not here...

      March 24, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
    • stevensb

      A great idea for a product that helps and heals , and is quite cool too , and heck yeah will probably be a great business success , just no down side here .
      And you call him a moron ......
      You need to go see a cardiologist dude , your heart is missing in action , not to mention your brain .

      March 24, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • Dave

        Tey thinking of the person with the prosthetic. I can't walk right but he's going to make money off it because he carves designs in it. You must be under 35. No consideration for the injured person. No childish!

        March 24, 2012 at 11:03 am |
      • Dave

        And before you make another childish remark I hit the e instead of the r.

        March 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
      • Dave

        One more thing Steve. Let me apologize for your parents not teaching you too think before you speak.

        March 24, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Linda

      Dave your an idiot

      March 24, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      Dave....... M O R O N

      March 24, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply
    • ResidualLimb

      Dear Dave,

      Do you know anyone who has lost a limb? I assure you that these men, women, and children are not offended that someone is making money trying to make their prostheses better. They are likely glad that they will have more choice in the design of something that is attached to their bodies. Right now, these limbs already cost patients upwards of $20,000 and are often disproportionate to the sound side leg. This disproportion means that, even when the patient is wearing full, thick pants, it is still clear that they do not have a natural limb. It creates a self-consciousness in them, and alleviating that aspect can only make them stronger emotionally and aid in their recovery (which is a mental battle as much as it is physical).

      Also, have you ever been out with someone who has a protheses? The stares of on-lookers astound me sometimes, and if a new prosthetic can help someone's limbs be more symmetric (or even be a source of positive attention), then bravo for Scott Summitt and his team.

      Again, I suggest you spend some time with some folks who have lost limbs. Volunteering is a great way to get to know some amazing people, and it sounds to me like it would help you do some much needed healing as well.

      March 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
    • Jillian Hall are the MORON!!! Have you lost a limb?? I don't think so or else you would not have said the things you did. What are you talking about? I am so mad I am shaking as I write! I lost my lower left leg in 2009. I was in a car accsedent and after 14 months of trying to save my leg, I had to decide to remove MY leg. I was devastated. I would love to have someone turn my leg into something beautiful. I still have problems with people looking at me and cover it up as much as possible. Maybe if my leg looked as cool as the ones he was designing then maybe I would feel better about showing it. Please take time to think before you open your mouth. People like you should be shipped to the island and forgotten about!!

      April 11, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Reply
      • Jillian Hall

        Oh ya I forgot to say that I am only 30 yrs old and have the rest of my life to deal with this. I didn't choose this and someone like Scott is just helping to make me feel better about my situation!!

        April 11, 2012 at 12:36 pm |

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