Enhancing mobility for amputees

Amparo is returning to the HPI D-School


Worldwide 90% of amputees do not have access to modern prosthetics. For them, the resulting loss of mobility often leads to a poverty cycle. A HPI D-School project in summer 2014 addressed that issue and challenged a multidisciplinary and international group of students to redesign the lower limb replacement experience for people living in developing countries. For four months the students worked on a solution to make amputees mobile again, helping them to integrate into society again and to gain back their confidence.


What started as joint Advanced Design Thinking project together with HPI D-School and the Global Engineering Program at PennState University became a startup with a clear goal: Empowering amputees worldwide by revolutionizing prosthetics. After the idea development phase during their HPI D-School semester, some students from the Global Engineering Teams (GET) decided to bring their team's solution to life. They wrote a business plan and received a start-up grant from the EXIST programme, which is co-financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and the European Social Fund (ESF), allowing them to research different materials for the development of their product, the Confidence Socket. In August 2016, Lucas Paes de Melo, Wesley Teerlink and Felix Dietrich officially launched the company “Amparo”.


Empowering amputees


Using human-centered design, Amparo developed an innovative and adjustable prosthetic socket that is much simpler and faster to use than other existing options. Sockets are the components of prosthetic legs that act as the interface between the prosthesis itself and the amputee’s limb. They need to be individually customized for each patient, which usually makes the production and fitting very complex and time consuming.


Instead of applying the casting methods used in traditional socket making, Amparo’s socket is fitted directly to the amputee’s limb. The team is using thermoplastic material that becomes flexible when heated and can then be molded to an amputee’s limb to create the socket. As there are no special tools needed for this procedure, it can be completed in one visit. Other than traditional sockets, the Amparo's thermoplastic socket can always be re-heated and remolded to the limb, which becomes necessary when an amputee’s limb volume changes. This technology will save amputees a lot of time, money and worries.


Returning to the HPI D-School

In early 2018 Amparo plans to launch a pilot project in South Africa. In an economically underdeveloped region of the Eastern Cape, the Amparo teams wants to equip 30 South African amputees with the Confidence Socket without charge. For that they are launching the campaign Yes I Care.

To organize this and future projects, Amparo is currently establishing an NGO and looking for creative fundraising ideas. Where best to find them than at the HPI D-School? In summer 2017 Lucas Paes de Melo returned to the HPI D-School, this time becoming a project partner himself and submitting a challenge for the students: Redesign the fundraising experience for donators to an NGO that will provide rehabilitation and prosthetic services for amputees from developing countries. “The HPI D-School is the perfect environment to see unexpected ideas being born – people, place and the method are unique there.” During their eight-week-projects two multidisciplinary student teams in the Basic Track developed creative solutions for Amparo’s challenge.

You are the hero of your own story

To immerse into the topic of their challenge and to understand the production process and special benefits of Amparo’s prostheses, team “Brosthesis” first visited Amparo and Koch Orthopädie in Berlin. They conducted qualitative interviews with fundraisers, amputees, technicians and potential donators to learn about fundraising and donating and get insights into the life of amputees. They found out that the motivation to donate often starts with a personal story. People need an emotional connection to be encouraged to donate.

From the interviews and from testing their first prototypes, the team also learned that the way of raising funds should be connected to the cause people are donating for. In Amparo’s case the connecting issue is mobility. “We learnt that it was rather about making donors feel connected to a good story, like one part of a common mission. A mission of mobility”, team “Brothesis” explains.

After testing different prototypes they developed their final idea: “Run for a leg” – a fundraising experience for running teams. However, “Run for a Leg” will not just be another donation run. To raise awareness and spark interest for the issue a known statue on a central square in a city will be equipped with a prosthesis mockup including a QR-Code. This code leads users to a web platform for the fundraising campaign which focuses on amputees and their stories. It aims at connecting amputees and donors and at encouraging people to register for the charity run.

Every participant will be assigned to a team of runners and together they start to raise money for a new prosthesis for a specific person. The benefitting amputee on the other hand gets the chance to tell his or her life story on eye level and thus makes the donators part of it. This makes the team’s contribution more transparent and impactful. To encourage the team, the amputee will also send them motivational text messages before the run. The prototype-campaign also plans to include amputees as much as possible during the charity run – either as volunteers or participants of a Nordic walking run, a sport that is practiced by many amputees. 

Move to move others

The second HPI D-School team found out that many digital natives are willing to donate. However, millennials often don’t take action and don’t want to make an extra effort. Based on these insights, the team developed first ideas and prototypes and tested them with users. The insights from the testing showed them that they had not found the most suitable solution yet but they used the findings and iterated back to ideation. For example, most people they talked to liked the idea of including big companies into the donation process. The team analyzed the feedback and brainstormed potential partners for Amparo. “Very quickly we realized what Amparo is about for us. It’s about making people mobile again”, team “One Leg-endary” concludes.

This insight helped them to come up with potential partners such as car manufacturers or the German railway. If the services the partner offers are focused on the same fundamental benefit Amparo generates, they provide a direct connection to the cause. A connection that is important for potential donators, their research showed. At this point, the team also had the idea for one of their final prototypes – the cooperation with a leading car-sharing company. However, in the second round of testing, some interviewees did not quite see the connection between Amparo and the car-sharing service. They rather associated shoes and sport with the type of mobility Amparo creates. Therefore, the team developed a second prototype with a sport shoe brand as partner.

Finally, the student team presented three ideas, each representing a different kind of mobility. Addressing the donators when they are already in the process of consumption is the main idea of their overall concept. This process should demand minimal effort from the potential donor. When using a car sharing provider’s app, the user will see a button that offers the option to donate a small amount of money per driven kilometer. More information on Amparo will be available on demand. When shopping for new sports shoes online there will be a button saying “share mobility” aiming to catch attention of the user. A pop-up window will explain Amparo’s initiative and give the opportunity to donate additionally to the online shopper’s purchase.

Besides their ideas of including a donation option in the consumption process of buying sportswear or using car sharing, the HPI D-School team also developed a prototype that targets an additional user group: online gamers. Gamers will be given the opportunity to buy an additional item for their characters – a powerful leg prosthesis that gives the character advantage over others – while at the same time donating money to Amparo’s project.

Getting ready for the market entry

Applying Design Thinking both student teams developed creative, human-centered solutions for Amparo’s challenge and the Amparo is happy about the results: “We see great potential in both ideas and we will definitely implement them in the near future!” After conducting the pilot project in South Africa, the Amparo team plans to approach possible partners, preferably big players like leading car sharing companies in Germany. Meanwhile, market entry for the Confidence Socket is planned for early 2018. It will be an exciting year for the startup and the HPI D-School wishes Amparo a lot of success with reaching their goal – to enhance mobility for amputees.


Amparo: Lucas Paes de Melo, Wesley Teerlink and Felix Dietrich


Team Brosthesis: Sebastian Schöne, Johanna Blees, Michael Kalz, Steve Liek, Assumpta Casals Martinez


Team One Leg-endary: Björn Hentschel, Marvin Bornstein, Camilla Cid, Melanie Arz, Julia Isabelle Majer