Marin, Israel techies help Paralympian get 3-D prosthetic

German cyclist Denise Schindler, who is competing in the Paralympics that began this week, is showcasing technological innovation as well as sporting prowess in Rio.

The 30-year-old is cycling with a new prosthesis, one that was produced through 3-D printing. Schindler, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after a tram accident when she was 3 years old, worked with Autodesk, a San Rafael-based software company, for about 18 months to design the new high-performance prosthesis.

Cyclist Denise Schindler

The artificial limb was printed in Marin County, and Autodesk’s R&D center in Tel Aviv played a major role in its creation.

“This is an excellent example to the way in which technology and innovative tools change the way in which we make things,” said Eitan Tzarfati, the head of Autodesk’s Israel R&D center. “In using generative design powered by algorithms, we are at the beginning of a revolution in design and manufacturing. Human designers cooperate with powerful computers and advanced software in dealing with design limits.”

The Paralympic Games opened Sept. 7 in Rio de Janeiro and will continue through Sept. 18 at the same venues and facilities as last month’s Olympic Games and under the same organizing committee. The games will include more than 4,300 athletes from 178 countries, who will compete in 22 sports. The U.S. team includes more than 260 athletes; Israel will be represented by 33 athletes.

Schindler, who competes in both road and track cycling, is a Paralympic silver medalist from four years ago in London.

She had the honor of explaining the 3-D prosthesis to President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April at one the world’s largest manufacturing trade shows, Hannover Messe in Germany.

“On the one hand, they encouraged me to go to Rio and [wished me] good luck there,” Schindler said. “But on the other hand, for sure they encouraged us to keep on the good work and establish a new way and to change the future there.”

Schindler worked with Autodesk, which was founded in Mill Valley in 1982, to develop a prosthesis that would be lighter, more aerodynamic and allow for greater power output.

Her team in Germany coordinated with a project manager in London and engineers in Marin County and Portland, Oregon, using Fusion 360, a cloud-based design software that allowed them to try more than 50 iterations of the design before printing the first prosthesis.

While a traditional prosthesis would weigh about 3.3 pounds, producing a polycarbonate prosthesis this way gets that down to about 2.2 pounds. It can also take production time from about 10 weeks to five days and cut costs from about $16,000 to about $4,700.

Schindler,  who in the past has competed with a handmade carbon-fiber prosthesis, said the team took to calling this project a “door-opener.”

Building a high-performance prosthesis was “a first step,” she added, “but if we establish a way to make it easier to build a prosthesis with 3-D printing, it can open up the opportunity for other prostheses.” — Jerusalem Post