Making them able again with cane

A Bengaluru-based mechanical engineer eases lives of differently abled people with lighter prosthetic legs crafted from cane

Published: 03rd June 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st June 2017 10:39 PM   |  A+A-

Arun Cherian | Jithendra M

After a three-hour walk in a vineyard in north Bengaluru, the 40-year-old supervisor, Vinod Gowda, felt tired. That was because his prosthetic, which he started using for his right leg following an accident a few years ago, weighed seven kilos—too heavy to walk for so long. Then one day, when he was at a local hospital, somebody asked him to get in touch with Arun Cherian, the CEO of Rise Legs, a Bengaluru-based prosthetic company.

Vinod did so and his life changed forever, because the prosthetic legs manufactured by Cherian are made of cane. “The artificial limb weighs only 2½ kg,” says Cherian. “Now, Vinod walks about 13 hours a day without feeling tired.”Nobody had made a prosthetic using cane before. And the 32-year-old Cherian stumbled upon this idea by accident.

In March 2014, the design engineer had come down from the US—where he was doing his doctoral studies at Purdue University—for his younger sister’s marriage. While at home in Mavelikkara, he saw the cane chairs in the living room in a new light.

“I realised that cane is flexible and can bear a lot of weight,” he says. “I wondered whether I could make a leg out of it.” So, he went to a nearby cane artisan, Abdul Rahman, who said he would try to make one under Cherian’s supervision. “And that was how the first prototype of the leg was made,” he says.

“Cane has twice the tensile strength of steel and half the weight. It is damage-tolerant and easy to bend. Even though cane and bamboo look similar, they are different. Bamboo is hollow inside.” But there are 1,200 varieties of cane. So, after several investigations, Cherian now buys a specific type all the way from north-east India. Asked which one, he smiles and says, “That’s a trade secret.”

So far, he has fitted only a limited number of people. That’s because he is still doing trials at CMC Hospital, Vellore, and St. John’s Hospital, Bengaluru. “Quality is my priority. Until I am able to figure out how to do service at scale, we will be fitting people in a phased manner,” he says. The price of a prosthetic leg ranges between `4,000 and `40,000, and may go up depending on modifications. Cherian has also developed custom-made wheelchairs for differently abled basketball and tennis players.

Prajwal Basavaraj, who has been using a prosthetic for the past four years after he lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident, took part in five-km obstacle race as well as 10-km race in Bengaluru. “Prajwal was provided with the best coaches,” says Arun. “Many of the differently-abled were shocked that they could take part in physical competitions. In fact, one of our clients took part in a triathlon in Switzerland.”
“To see them blossom is one of the most fulfilling experiences for me,” says Cherian.

Meanwhile, Cherian is being supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, where he is a D-Lab Fellow, and the Bengaluru-based Association of People with Disability.

He has been receiving queries about the leg from Australia, Uganda, West Indies, Mexico, Ecuador and others.

“I am in no hurry. I want to make a product that makes a difference in the lives of people,” he says.

Walking the extra mile

Why Cane?
It has twice the tensile strength of steel and half the weight. It is damage-tolerant and easy to bend.

USP
Artificial limb made of cane weighs only 2 ½ kg, thus making walking for longer durations easier.

Cost
The price of a prosthetic leg ranges between `4,000 and `40,000, and may go up depending on modifications.

Other products
Cherian has also developed custom-made wheelchairs for differently abled basketball and tennis players.

Future Plans
Until he is able to figure out how to do service at scale, he will be fitting people in a phased manner.

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