In Bengaluru's busy Ashok Nagar locality, the business of wooden prosthetic legs and sustainable art share an office inside the walls of the WeWork workspace.
Rise Legs and Rise Design Art, a startup founded by Arun Cherian, promises its customers prosthetic legs that are six times lighter than most medical alternatives, designed to look more like human limbs, and are sustainable to boot. They achieve all this by making the legs out of cane like bamboo.
“We make high quality, affordable mobility devices, so that people cannot just walk, but also run, play, and dance,” said Arun.
“Rise Legs makes light-weight, cost effective, flexible legs from bamboo. We digitally scan the body, so what would previously take two - three days, would now take an hour.”
Rise Design, on the other hand, does things differently. “We buy cane in bulk. We use medical grade for the prosthetic, and the non-medical grade, which is still very good cane, to create high-end art pieces that go for a lot of money. And we use that money to subsidise the prosthetic legs.”
Arun explains that this model, which blends art, innovation and design was developed to get “art to fund innovation in the medical space so that we can do social good, which in turn provides a platform for more artists to create art.”
Arun completed his masters in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University and worked as a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. He explains how his background in robotics and biomechanics helped him find the key similarity between a biological limb and a device made of cane—flexible, spring-like qualities.
“It really was a curiosity-based invention. My background is that of a roboticist and I used to study the biomechanics of locomotion. I was doing my PhD in how animals and robots can walk. Very simply put, the leg of any animal, whether it is an elephant, giraffe, lion, human, dog or a cockroach, no matter what the size or the number of legs it has, all animals walk the same. The legs are like tuned springs. This is also how we get robots to walk and run, we make their leg like a spring. When I came down to Kerala for my sister’s wedding, I saw we have cane furniture at home. If cane can be bent in all these beautiful shapes and bear our weight, from a mechanical standpoint, it can bend and take weight, that’s a spring. So if cane is a spring, and if the leg is a spring, then the question was, can I make a leg out of cane?”
This epiphany led him to local artisans, and he was delighted to find out that it is indeed possible to make a leg out of cane, and it can support human weight, too.
He has appeared on several TED talks. At TEDx Bocconi Mumbai, he advocated a brand of manufacturing which he terms “Frugal Innovation”. “The solutions through frugal innovation or creative constraint need not be sub-par, with adequate thought they can still be elegant and world class….With the advent of technology, it is absolutely possible to do more with less.” These prosthetic legs are available at a price which is a fraction of the price of other artificial prosthetic legs which are available in the market.
What advice does he have for people aspiring to build a start-up?
“It’s so true when people say, ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room'. Work with people who are better than you in what they do, and together as a team, learn to solve the problem elegantly. The personal and philosophical growth I had, was orders of magnitude larger than the technical and the business challenge I faced. It’s more of a personal journey than a business journey.”