Torstar news service photo
A Montreal industrial designer has walked away with a $143,000 prize for the creation of a cheap artificial foot that could help untold numbers of land-mine victims move freely again.
Mobility For Each One, designed by Sebastien Dubois as a university project, won one of five prizes yesterday in Copenhagen at the biannual INDEX awards — considered the world’s biggest design prize. The prosthetic foot can be made for less than $10 in developing countries.
“I never thought that I could win,” says the elated 29-year-old, who recently graduated. “My main objective was to show my invention and find financing.”
Dubois has given the design to Handicap International, which is seeking funding to move the project forward. He plans to use the prize money to finance some other ideas.
Dubois’ elegant design doesn’t copy our anatomy, as most prostheses do. It refers to the human foot without trying to clone it, allowing the user to underline the difference — confronting instead of hiding. He also designed a fabric cover for users who prefer discretion.
The prosthesis replicates natural leg movement, reproducing the impulse of the toes to propel the leg forward, making walking easier and increasing the user’s mobility. People have even run and played sports with it.
Such high-quality prostheses with the so-called “return of energy” function typically cost between $1,200 and $4,000, Dubois says.
He was motivated on travels to countries where land-mine victims are reduced to begging. “In developing countries, almost all the jobs are physical, so if you have a handicap you don’t find (employment),” says Dubois.
With prosthetic material at a premium, he saw aid organizations forced to buy cheap products that were not very effective. Staggering estimates of more than 40 new casualties every day pushed him into action.
Dubois researched user needs and their perception of their disability, available resources, economic realities and health systems of countries like Nicaragua, Madagascar, Togo and India — meeting with prosthesis makers all over the globe.
A lifelong inventor, he makes his prototypes in his father’s garage.
This product is light, durable, water resistant and easy to clean, with a smooth texture that helps shoes slip on easily. He uses glass fibre in place of carbon fibre, which is 10 times cheaper and available in remote areas. Simple production methods needing little technical aptitude make it a product that can be easily produced in developing countries. “My project was not to design some new product; it was to redesign it to be able to produce it in a basic workshop,” he says.