‘How Form5 is innovating prosthetic tech by embracing its community
Prosthetic limbs are complicated pieces of technology. They serve a critical function, but need to be customized down to each individual’s body and planned uses. So when it comes to developing those prosthetics, shouldn’t those who use them be the ones to guide new innovations? To Form5 Prosthetics founder Aaron Westbrook, the answer is a definitive “yes.”
“Form5 Prosthetics is an inclusive and collaborative organization that works to empower people to achieve things they never thought they could do or that they lost the ability to do,” he said. “We enable people to do those things through the development of our prosthetics. Our innovation is really centered around people with limb differences. There’s a gap in the industry, and we hope to change the types of devices that are on the market while empowering the limb difference community.”
Westbrook’s journey to founding Form5 began as a sophomore in high school. Born without one of his hands, he got his first prosthetic while attending New Albany High School. He was instantly fascinated by the technology. At the same time, his school happened to get a 3D printer. He asked a teacher if he could use the printer to work on an idea for a new prosthetic, and Form5’s story began.
“The thing that bothered me the most was the disconnect in innovation of these prosthetics,” he said. “The people who know what they need should be part of making it, and no one seemed to see that. That representation is huge, and helped to birth Form5. It’s about creating a community, sharing our journeys and moving forward together. It’s a dream come true to be able to empower others. I think this moment in history is the dawning of the limb difference community being recognized and having equal opportunities. We’re defining ourselves as a community, and I think Form5 is part of that.”
Form5 prides itself on products that are “built by and for people with limb differences.” In addition to types of prosthetics you’ve probably seen before, the company develops specialized prosthetics for biking and other activities — all with real-life use in mind. That’s not always the case elsewhere, and Westbrook sees it as an important distinction in his work.
“It gives me the upper hand, to use an absolute pun,” he said with a laugh. “I can not only empathize with the recipients we’re working with, but I also have the perspective of what Form5 could have meant to me if it existed when I was younger. I think I’m a living example to people with limb differences. The impact we’re making goes beyond the physical product; we have the potential to show people with limb differences what they’re capable of doing, and that sparks so much imagination and possibility.”
The company isn’t just doing rewarding and beneficial work, they’re increasing the potential of the business side at a rapid rate. Westbrook graduates from college this spring, and at the same time is working to expand Form5’s reach. He’s preparing to expand their workshops outside of Ohio while also working to enhance their capabilities from “two or three people using our prosthetics” to “thousands.” With a new home just outside of Columbus at the EDGE Innovation Hub in Gahanna, Westbrook is excited for what the future holds.
“There’s a lot of technology and innovation happening in Ohio, and the manufacturing backbone of this area will really help to move that forward,” he said. “Columbus has such a giving, philanthropic community. People are passionate, engaged and involved. It’s remarkable how many people have reached out and wanted to be involved with Form5, from corporations to engineers and designers. It’s a great place to foster this idea and our innovation.”