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The Prosthetic Arm Design Project is bringing together one of Adelaide's leading medical institutions and one of our top universities. This project is setting a precedence, not only in Adelaide, but across the whole country, and in addition to its innovative contents, it is attracting attention because it is led by two Japanese professionals.


The Chance Meeting of Two Japanese Professionals

"Prostheses such as prosthetic arms and legs have changed very little since the end of World War Two". Working as a prosthetist in Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Hiroshi Otani has always contemplated whether or not he would want to attach a prosthetic arm or leg to his body if he was ever in the situation to need one. Recently in both western countries and Japan, designers and engineers have begun taking the lead in producing prostheses that are both fashionable and functional; something Hiroshi finds this very intriguing. “I think that the influence of processes used in production design have on prosthetists will lead to far better products which are more fashionable, easier to use, and far more appealing to the end users. I would like to see us make these concepts a reality here in Australia.”

The pursuit of this idea brought about an almost predestined chance for Hiroshi to meet University of South Australia (UniSA) senior lecturer, Kei Hoshi.

Hiroshi explained, “I wanted to see what the impact would be on the design of prostheses if someone with design knowledge was to work in cooperation with a prosthetist, so I sent an email directly to the School of Art, Architecture and Design at UniSA. The email finally ended up with Kei who teaches industrial design at the university.”

Kei had never really thought about this topic but found it really caught his attention. This, along with the fact that the mail came from another Japanese person made him very interested in finding out more. On top of that, Hiroshi had attached a design photograph of a prosthetic leg used by a musician to his email. Just by chance, Kei had read about this prosthesis in a design magazine only a few days before receiving the email. This really made him feel a sense of destiny about Hiroshi’s proposal.

“I’ve always worked in industrial design and in Japan I worked in fields like Audio/Visual device/equipment design. After that, while I was getting my master’s and Ph.D. in graduate schools in the USA and Europe, I began to take an interest in design impacting elderly people who are physically disabled or suffer from dementia, and I included this in my studies. This background also made the idea of prosthetic arm design very interesting for me personally.”

With that, Kei promptly introduced the prosthetic arm design project as a practical assignment and part of the course curriculum for students studying design at the university. The lectures didn’t only touch on the design of prosthetic arms, they formed part of the requirements needed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree; the first time for UniSA to trial this in their design degree.


Commencing the Project

The project began with the UniSA students visiting the hospital to learn about the process used to produce the prosthetic arms and to hear directly from the actual end users. This started them thinking about their new prosthetic arm designs. The class of 50 students broke up into 9 groups, with the leader of each group visiting the hospital to view the workshop and interview the end users. This formed the basis for discussion amongst the group, leading them to their final design. The original brief given to the students for the design was to produce a prosthetic arm for ‘dining’ but, as the project proceeded, student ideas began to overflow leading to the broad theme of ‘everyday life’ as the final basis for their designs.

“The idea is not for the design students to think about and produce their designs on their own, we want them to work with stakeholders, such as professionals and the end users, to come to the final product. Putting it simply, designers of what is known as inclusive design, have to fulfill the technical role of ‘facilitator’ and I think that this study has been a meaningful learning opportunity for the students.” (Kei Hoshi)

Hiroshi says that when he guided the students through the workshop, they had many questions and he felt they responded well, being proactive in things like taking photos and showing a really high level of interest.

“Groups came up with different ideas such as a prosthetic arm to operate a tractor, one for fishing, riding a bicycle, using a computer game controller; it was really interesting to see what the students focused on and the ideas that arose from creative thinking.  Putting the practicality of their designs aside, I think that the idea of giving a child from my hospital the chance to enjoy playing computer games, for example, would be a great thing. Moving forward, I really hope that we can broaden the scope of the project, developing it to include professionals such as occupational therapists for example, who can help children who have loss of finger capacity and other impairments like that.” (Hiroshi Otani)




The Future of Prostheses

The 8-week project led to 9 designs to be proposed as 3D CAD models, and the best of these were created as test models in a 3D printer, allowing for a more real expression of the design. The sense of satisfaction from the students and the strong appraisals given by the medical professionals have given the first round of the project very strong results. The next step is still in its conceptual stage but Kei wants to see the bachelor students spend 6 months both designing and moving on to the actual production of a physical model, or alternatively, have a one-year project for master’s students, with a focus on maintaining the practicality of the design at the forefront of their work. Kei says that he is planning on continuing to make adjustments to the project in the university.

“In Sweden there are even proposals to make prosthetic arms for children to use things such as Lego. The field of prostheses is very active and there are more and more cases of universities and design schools including this design into their curriculum. From the prospective of a lecturer, I really want my students to understand that there are so many opportunities out there and I think it would be great if they ended up creating designs that had a positive contribution to our society.  I want the designers of tomorrow to focus on humanity and face the challenges of the here and now.” (Kei Hoshi)

Hiroshi agrees, saying, “I believe that prosthetic limbs will continue to evolve more and more. End users have an abundance of knowledge and access to new information, and I think it wont just be them, but everyone around them, who will have an increase in awareness and change their values towards prostheses.  It is important that prosthetists and designers make an effort to not get left behind in this new world.” This shows Hiroshi’s commitment to make an active contribution to the ongoing development of prostheses.

This project, being achieved with the lead of two Japanese people living in Adelaide, has expanded into a new stage with hopes that it will increase the interest and consciousness of prostheses across all Australians.




Kei Hoshi 
Kei Hoshi is co-founder of the Morphogenetic Prototyping Lab and senior lecturer in product innovation design at the University of South Australia. With Over 20 year’s professional and academic experience in design, Kei shares his knowledge with UniSA’s product design and industrial design students with a creative and practical approach to teaching. Prior to joining UniSA, he worked a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Zurich, as part of the Neurology and Rehabilitation group, exploring new therapy and assessment solution based on wearable movement sensor technology. He has a Ph.D. in Informatics from the department of informatics, Umeå University, Sweden and a Master of Design degree from the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology. As a professional designer, he also worked in projects developing A/V & telecommunication systems for a Japanese manufacturing company, and had the opportunity to work with Isao Hosoe, a Milan‐based designer in Italy. His research interests include methods and theory in human-computer interaction, particularly in the human-experiential approach to designing interactive systems. He also participated in several funded projects such as The Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation project and EU (European Union) and Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme funded project.


Hiroshi Otani - Prosthetist at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital 
After graduating from the Department of Business Administration at the Aichi Gakuin University, Hiroshi received his qualification from the prosthesis department of the Japanese Auditory and Language Assistance Vocational School and worked at a Japanese prostheses manufacturing company. He went on to complete the Prosthetics and Orthotics upgrade course at La Trobe University before becoming a prosthetist at Adelaide’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.