Doting dad invents a baby bionic arm for his son

Sol Ryan as a newborn, and with his dad Ben.
Sol Ryan as a newborn, and with his dad Ben. Photo: Ben Ryan/Facebook/Indiegogo

When new father Ben Ryan spent most days in his shed after his baby son, Sol, had his arm amputated, his wife Kate grew concerned for his welfare. 

It had been a tough time for the family. Baby Sol had been just 10 days old when he had undergone surgery to remove his arm just below the elbow due to a blood clot. Then, Kate said, her husband "was in his shed at the bottom of the garden and I wouldn't see him for days."

"To be perfectly honest I thought he was going a little bit mad," she told Good Morning Britain.

Sol and the first 3D prototype.
Sol and the first 3D prototype. 

But Ben eventually emerged from his backyard workshop with a remarkable invention: a bionic arm for baby Sol.

The psychology teacher from Bangor, UK, had trained himself in the principles of biotechnics to create the prosthesis after learning no options were available to his son at such a young age. The only prosthetics with sensor technology for very young children were bulky and cumbersome - and only available to Sol from age three.

In addition, most children who are older than two years old reject them.

He deduced that for children to mature with the advantages of using a prosthetic, they would need to start using one before the age of three.

"There's a really rapid period of brain growth that ends at about the age of two-and-a-half. If you haven't mastered prosthetic use by the age of two-and-a-half, I believe that's why rejection occurs," he says.

His first prototype was made in a 3D printer. The design needed to be safe, not pose any choking hazard or risk of other injury, and get through baby fat, as existing types of prosthetic technology couldn't access nerve signals properly through it.

The resulting design uses inspiration from the hydraulic functionality of a spider's legs, using pockets of fluid to aid motion.

Ben has a crowdfunding campaign running for his company Ambionics, which, if it gets off the ground, aims to manufacture prosthetics that "help children everywhere adopt and continue to use prosthetics through into adulthood."

His invention is unprecedented for very young children at a peak time in their learning capacity, allowing them to access the benefits of a prosthesis. They will also be much cheaper than conventional options and can be made in a much shorter timeframe.

"Based on how quickly things are developing in Ambionics, it's clear that Sol and I are going to leave a wake of technology behind us as he grows and shows me what he needs," he says.

"Others should absolutely benefit from that. I intend to completely disrupt the market and bring affordable and effective prosthetic solutions to as many infants with upper-limb differences as possible."