DiversityNursing Blog

College Kids Make Robotic Arms For Children Without Real Ones

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Tue, Mar 10, 2015 @ 12:39 PM

 Daphne Sashin

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By the time Cynthia Falardeau read about Alex Pring, a little boy who got a battery-powered robotic arm last summer, she had made peace with her son Wyatt's limb difference. 

Her premature baby had been born with his right arm tangled in amniotic bands. At a week old, doctors amputated his dead forearm and hand. They were afraid his body would be become infected and he would die. Falardeau mourned her boy's missing arm for years but, in time, embraced her son as he was. 

Wyatt also learned to adapt. They tried a couple of prosthetics when he was younger and each time the toddler abandoned the false limb within months. 

"His main interest was to create a shocking response from onlookers by pulling it off in the grocery store," Falardeau wrote on CNN iReport. In truth, she had been more concerned about getting him therapy for his autism-related delays -- the limb difference was secondary.

So when a friend shared a story from the "Today Show" with Wyatt in mind, about a team of University of Central Florida (UCF) students and graduates that made an electronic arm for 6-year-old Pring using a three-dimensional printer on campus, Falardeau was defensive. 

"He doesn't need this," she thought. 

Her fifth-grader had a different reaction: "I want one of these robot arms!" Falardeau remembers Wyatt telling her and her husband. "I could ride a bike! I might even be able to paddle a kayak!" 

There were other things the 12-year-old boy said he would do if he had two hands. A proper somersault. Clap with two hands. Dance with a pretty girl with one hand on her back and the other leading. Stuff she hadn't really thought about but he clearly had.

Falardeau got in touch with the Orlando students through E-Nable, an online volunteer organization started by Rochester Institute of Technology research scientist Jon Schull to match people who have 3-D printers with children in need of hands and arms. The organization creates and shares bionic arm designs for free download at EnablingTheFuture.org that can be assembled for as little as $20 to $50. Middle and high school student groups and Girl and Boy Scout troops are among those donating their time and materials to assemble limbs for kids and give them to recipients for free.

The UCF team, which operates a nonprofit called Limbitless Solutions, is special because it's the only group in the 3-D volunteer network making electronic arms. Most 3-D arms are mechanical, which presents a challenge for children without elbows. With mechanical arms, the child opens and closes their hand by bending their elbow. The students came up with the idea for an electronic arm with a muscle sensor that allows the child to open and close their hand by flexing their bicep.

"It's really just a step-by-step process of solving problems. The first problem we solved was: how do we make the hand move electronically? And then: how do we attach this arm to a child?" said sophomore Tyler Petresky. "It's just one problem after another we keep solving. That's what engineering is all about." 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 1,500 babies in the United States are born with upper limb deformities each year. Comprehensive statistics aren't available for the number of children with amputations, such as Wyatt. 

The UCF project started when Albert Manero, an engineering doctoral student, heard a story on the radio about one of the inventors of the 3-D printed hand. He got involved with E-Nable and met Alex, a local boy teased because of his missing arm, and set about designing a robotic replacement. They gave it to Alex for free. 

"My mother taught us that we're supposed to help change the world," Manero said at the time."We're supposed to help make it better." 

The students were blown away by what happened after that. The "Today Show" and other national news outlets featured stories about Alex and Manero, and then they got international attention. Families in more than 25 countries have asked the UCF students to help their children. In February, Microsoft highlighted the team in a social media campaign celebrating students using technology to change the world.

Each electronic limb takes about 30 to 50 hours to make and assemble. The students use the printer in the school's manufacturing lab and cover the cost of materials -- about $350 -- through donations.

Petresky got involved with the design of Pring's hand because Manero knew he was good with electronics. 

"He bribed me with some pulled pork sandwiches. I went over to his house and helped him out with electronics," he said. "I found out he was working on an arm, and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world."

Eventually Manero moved to Germany for a Fulbright scholarship and left Petresky in charge of running the operations in Orlando.

Petresky says they ask every family about the child's favorite color, superhero and interests, so the new limb can "not just be a piece of plastic ... but be a part of them." 

As they've designed the bionics, they've learned that kids don't necessarily want to blend in. Children have requested colorful designs inspired by superheroes, Disney's "Frozen," and in Wyatt's case, the blue-skinned men from "Blue Man Group." For Christmas, the group upgraded Alex's plain vanilla white arm to a new one resembling Optimus Prime from "Transformers."

"We quickly found out this is much less about fitting in and feeling normal, and much more about expressing yourself," Petresky said. "There's a large aspect of being artistic and being creative."

The team has made electronic arms for five children and are working with three more kids including Wyatt. He traveled with his mom to UCF last week and practiced flexing his muscle to make the hand open and close.

He expects to get fitted with his new arm later this month.

His mom, Cynthia, was most excited about seeing Wyatt being celebrated for who he is.

"The adoration of college students was an affirmation that money can't buy. He was wrapped in the joy of leading and advising students on how to help children like himself," she wrote in her iReport. "Wyatt felt like he was making a difference for himself and other children."

As they got ready to leave the campus, her son told her he can't wait to see what he will accomplish with his new arm. And someday, he said, he wants to go to UCF and help other kids like him.

Source: www.cnn.com

Topics: robotic, limbs, robot, technology, health, children, medical, patients, college, students, robotic arm, 3-D printer

Thumbs-up for mind-controlled robotic arm

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:43 AM

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A paralysed woman who controlled a robotic arm using just her thoughts has taken another step towards restoring her natural movements by controlling the arm with a range of complex hand movements.

Thanks to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, Jan Scheuermann, who has longstanding quadriplegia and has been taking part in the study for over two years, has gone from giving "high fives" to the "thumbs-up" after increasing the manoeuvrability of the robotic arm from seven dimensions (7D) to 10 dimensions (10D).

The extra dimensions come from four hand movements--finger abduction, a scoop, thumb extension and a pinch--and have enabled Jan to pick up, grasp and move a range of objects much more precisely than with the previous 7D control.

It is hoped that these latest results, which have been published today, 17 December, in IOP Publishing's Journal of Neural Engineering, can build on previous demonstrations and eventually allow robotic arms to restore natural arm and hand movements in people with upper limb paralysis.

Jan Scheuermann, 55, from Pittsburgh, PA had been paralysed from the neck down since 2003 due to a neurodegenerative condition. After her eligibility for a research study was confirmed in 2012, Jan underwent surgery to be fitted with two quarter-inch electrode grids, each fitted with 96 tiny contact points, in the regions of Jan's brain that were responsible for right arm and hand movements.

After the electrode grids in Jan's brain were connected to a computer, creating a brain-machine interface (BMI), the 96 individual contact points picked up pulses of electricity that were fired between the neurons in Jan's brain.

Computer algorithms were used to decode these firing signals and identify the patterns associated with a particular arm movement, such as raising the arm or turning the wrist.

By simply thinking of controlling her arm movements, Jan was then able to make the robotic arm reach out to objects, as well as move it in a number of directions and flex and rotate the wrist. It also enabled Jan to "high five" the researchers and feed herself dark chocolate.

Two years on from the initial results, the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have now shown that Jan can successfully manoeuvre the robotic arm in a further four dimensions through a number of hand movements, allowing for more detailed interaction with objects.

The researchers used a virtual reality computer program to calibrate Jan's control over the robotic arm, and discovered that it is crucial to include virtual objects in this training period in order to allow reliable, real-time interaction with objects.

Co-author of the study Dr Jennifer Collinger said: "10D control allowed Jan to interact with objects in different ways, just as people use their hands to pick up objects depending on their shapes and what they intend to do with them. We hope to repeat this level of control with additional participants and to make the system more robust, so that people who might benefit from it will one day be able to use brain-machine interfaces in daily life.

"We also plan to study whether the incorporation of sensory feedback, such as the touch and feel of an object, can improve neuroprosthetic control."

Commenting on the latest results, Jan Scheuermann said: ""This has been a fantastic, thrilling, wild ride, and I am so glad I've done this."

"This study has enriched my life, given me new friends and co-workers, helped me contribute to research and taken my breath away. For the rest of my life, I will thank God every day for getting to be part of this team."

Source: www.sciencedaily.com

Topics: researchers, robotic, limbs, paralysis, computer, technology, health, healthcare, patient

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