Ms. Aryata Agarwal Jhawar is one of the women innovators who have dedicated their lives for the betterment of society. Aryata is a Wharton School graduate and Kolkata based innovator in the field of enabling prosthesis. She is the Managing Trustee of Jivika Foundation, a registered Charitable Public Trust, with the mission to develop and distribute hyper affordable prosthetics for disabled people at the bottom of the pyramid, enabling them to lead active and productive lives with dignity.
Aryata came across the use of 3D printing for prosthetic devices while she was studying in the US, where she keenly followed a US-based organization called e-NABLE that provides 3D-printed prosthetic hands. According to recent studies relating to the prosthetics market in developed countries, non-functional prosthetic hands cost between $3000 – $5000, while sophisticated neuroprosthetic hands tend to be upwards of $100,000. Thus, significant number of hand amputees cannot afford it or find existing solutions very uncomfortable. With a view to enabling this particularly to disadvantaged section of the society, Aryata founded Jivika Foundation to develop a cost effective, functional, lightweight, fully customizable, 3D-printed prosthetic hand that can be easily reproduced using off-the-shelf, low cost materials.
Though the idea held great merit, the journey for the execution of this idea was fraught with challenges. One of Jivika’s foremost challenges was access to funds. Jivika Foundation has been established as a not-for-profit organization and their aim is to provide innovative prosthetics to disadvantaged people for free or at highly subsidized rates. Having access to extremely limited funds forced the team to improvise and use ‘jugaad’ principles of innovation for the development of their first fully functional prototype. Stratasys India very generously offered to assist the team in their endeavor by providing free 3D printing services and they also won some grants from different communities.
Another major challenge was creating the right team structure and sustaining it. Aryata tried to build crowdsourcing technology model like e-NABLE. But this model failed miserably for various reasons like lack of open source project culture and finding & motivating relevant contributors. Then she hired a multi-disciplinary team, which she paid for from her own savings. Through frugal innovation techniques and utilizing parts from commonly available sources, such as the spokes of a bicycle wheel, snap buttons, copper tubes from refrigerators, transistor parts, etc., the development and prototype cost was kept to a minimum.
Deploying the prototype on the field was another challenge, as they felt distributing the prosthesis free would flock the people to them. In reality they faced a lot of skepticism due to working out of a laboratory without any ‘white coat’ doctors. Also misinformation was circulated in the villages about product’s ability to electrocute one’s arm and further harm patients! The team had to take strategic steps to overcome such baseless fears and took help from Rehabilitation institutes. These efforts paid off with astounding results as seen in a 22-year boy who was fitted with the LimBot arm and could perform all day-to-day functions.
Next steps for the team include detailed clinical trials and obtaining necessary regulatory clearances and approvals for finally fitting patients. Towards this end, the team is in talks with Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in Singapore for running extensive clinical trials for the product. This would allow the team to serve disadvantaged people in other markets, apart from India, as well. The vision is grand and the journey challenging. Here’s hoping many more innovators such as Aryata, dream big to make the world a better, more equal place.