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Lucky dog runs free with 3D-printed prosthetics

A pooch born with deformed front legs gets to run like other dogs for the first time after getting fitted with a custom set of 3D-printed prosthetics.

Derby the dog with legs
Derby shows off his 3D-printed prosthetics. 3D Systems

Derby the dog didn't have the greatest fortune in life. The pup was born with deformed front legs and no front paws. This limited his mobility and meant he could only move around on soft surfaces that wouldn't damage his front extremities. If every dog has its day, then Derby had a very good day when he was fostered by Tara Anderson, an employee of 3D Systems, a 3D design and printing company.

Dog prosthetics in a 3D printer
The printer was able to turn out the new legs in just a few hours. 3D Systems

A team including designers from 3D Systems and an orthotist specializing in animals set about creating a custom pair of prosthetics to help Derby move around. The idea was to give the pooch an upgrade over the front-body cart he had been using. The wheeled cart helped him get around, but wouldn't allow him to run around freely and socialize like other dogs.

The prosthetics were 3D-printed using multiple materials to fit perfectly to Derby's legs. His legs sit in rubber cups while the rest of the prosthetic is rigid. It took a few hours to print out the prosthetics using a ProJet 5500X, an industrial-grade 3D printer.

You may notice that the front legs are low, so Derby is leaning forward a bit. This is by design to make the shift from moving around with non-functioning front legs to raised legs less dramatic.

Most human prosthetics try to replicate the look of the part they're filling in for. For Derby, it was a concern that thin or blade-like parts might stick into the ground and hinder the pup's progress. This resulted in a different approach to the design, one that involved the creation of a curved set of prosthetics that could cradle Derby's real legs, allow for movement and handle a variety of terrain. Derby can now outrun his new adoptive parents and regularly goes for two to three mile jaunts with his family.

Derby isn't the first critter to get a helping hand from 3D printing. A little dog named TurboRoo was born without front legs and was given a custom wheelchair thanks to the technology. Humans have also gotten in on the action, making their own fingertips and a cool Iron Man-style hand sized for a child. Derby's story is a particularly aw-inducing example of how 3D printing is changing lives, for both two-legged and four-legged creatures.