3D printing just fixed a sick tortoise’s roughed up shell

30 Mar 2015

Cleopatra, a tortoise with a shell that was deformed and falling apart, has just received a 3D-printed prosthetic shell attachment to help her live a long and fruitful life.

Roger Henry, a Colorado Technical University (CTU) student, spent hundreds of hours designing a device that fits just right, giving Cleopatra the ability to finally interact with others of her kind.

Years of terrible diet contorted her shell, forming steep spikes that meant Cleopatra could not self right herself if she fell on her back. It also weakened it so holes emerged, leaving her susceptible to infection.

But Henry’s prosthetic creation, made from plastic derived from corn and built by a 3D printer, fixes her up and, when he irons out a few creases and adds some air holes, Cleopatra will be right as rain.

The most difficult part of Henry’s work was creating something ergonomic in code, as the new shell had to “drape like a piece of cloth” over her existing shell.

As The Denver Post reports, this isn’t purely the domain of tortoise care, though, with 3D printing having already enabled an infant to breathe through a new windpipe, and dentists scanning and printing teeth.

“This is a very good feeling,” said Henry. “It’s fantastic to know this tortoise is going to be able to recover from its malnutrition.”

Tortoise shell 3D

Apparently Cleopatra couldn’t interact with other tortoises when her shell began failing. Now the 3D model sorts that. Via Facebook

3D printing is improving by the day. A new method shown at a TED conference in Vancouver caused quite a stir after the designers claimed they can make objects in a fraction of the time it would take a standard 3D printer, by using lights rather than the layered approach more common.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic