ECD Ben James on an incredible innovation developed with Northwell Health
6% of all injured returning US war veterans do so in need of prosthetics – and while advancements have been made in that field, many of them are, understandably, related more to our health needs than human. J. Walter Thompson New York and Northwell Health set out to change that recently, and in doing so have developed an amphibious prosthetic leg that acts as naturally in water as it does out. To test the creation, the team worked with Dan Lasko, a 33-year-old veteran, who wanted nothing more than to swim with his kids again. As the film below is testament to, the prosthetic allowed that and much more.
LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with J. Walter Thompson New York ECD Ben James to find out how they pulled it off.
LBB> What was the initial brief for this project and what were you thinking when it came in?
BJ> We were asked to create an activation for Veterans that brought attention to their world class Military and Veterans’ Liaison Services. We were also aware of their 3D printing expertise. The agency had been working with Northwell Health for some time and we knew they really meant it when they say ‘good ideas can come from anywhere.’ So we thought this might be a chance to go further than an ad. To give a brand act a go.
LBB> It’s a real opportunity to link innovative technology with a very human approach - something that can really be beneficial. How important was that to this project and, in general, more technology focused campaigns?
BJ> Starting with human insights is the right way to go. That’s why we called the story “The Return”. It’s about The Fin. But it’s really about Dan. And other veterans returning from war and conflict who are looking to return to more active states. Approaching this to return Dan to the water to swim with his kids and perhaps even compete in sports, was really the goal. And that framed the solution. Technology can get a bit too ‘spaceshippy’ on one end or too ‘utilitarian’ on another. We really need to put people at the centre of all of this. That’s where we will find the best solutions.
LBB> How did you become aware of Dan’s situation and how it come to be that you worked with him on this campaign?
BJ> We started the process with the knowledge that 6% of injured returning veterans are doing so in need of prosthetics. We also knew that many were very active before they left. We had the idea to push for an amphibious prosthetic because it was an underserved area. So we went looking for someone who we felt could challenge us. We briefed in a search like we were looking for a test pilot. That’s how we found Dan. He is super active. I saw his twitter handle recently… all action emojis in the ‘about me’ description. And that holds true. We wanted Dan to challenge us. And he came through. In interviews, he talked about getting back to a more natural swim with his kids. And that really sealed it up for us on working with him. We knew this could serve both the physical and emotional.
LBB> How does the prosthetic leg work? How is it possible to work both in and out of water?
BJ> The fin is really the evolution here. There are conically shaped holes in the triangular area of the prosthetic that prevent drag but offer propulsion. The Eschen team added grip to the bottom so that it doesn’t slip. And the carbon fiber makes it durable both in and out. We’ve even looked at the possibility of wrapping a cage around it so that your pant leg falls more naturally in case you follow your swim with dinner.
LBB> Who did you work with on the technological development and how did each party collaborate on this?
BJ> We proposed the story to the team as a guided team effort: Northwell, The Feinstein Institute, Northwell Ventures, Eschen Prosthetics, The Composite Prototyping Center, 3HTI / Markforged 3D printing, and J. Walter Thompson New York. As a team. We proposed the amphibious solution to the clients and the team once we were all seated at the table and had collectively tested everyone’s expertise and capability. So this was really an exercise in design thinking. Curiosity and need meets capability and technology.
LBB> Why has this never been investigated / experimented with in the past?
BJ> We had seen attempts at water prototypes. But none in action that we were aware of. And some seemed to aim to turn people into fish… to make them swim super-fast or add a flipper. And there are some water prosthetics that act a bit like an anchor. Or they let you get in, and don’t function well out. Or they don’t propel you through the water naturally. This isn’t a flipper or a paddle. We wanted something that would offer a more natural swim and as Eschen teammate Matt Flynn puts it, “down to the beach. In you go and out you come.” Matt is incredible. A 30-year prosthetist and below-the-knee amputee himself, he verified that there really hadn’t been a lot of thought put toward it in the space.