Lending a Hand: Teen Creates Cheap Voice-Controlled Prosthetic Arm

There is no doubt that prosthetics enhance the lives of amputees everywhere but they are expensive and in many cases out of reach to poorer populations. With prices soaring upwards of $35,000, 3-D printing has filled an important gap in providing low-cost artificial limbs to the economically disadvantaged. Although cheaper options are available, with them comes poorer quality and few capabilities other than opening and closing the hand.

Nilay Mehta and his cost-effective prosthetic arm

One bright young man from Irvine High School in California harnessed technology to create a 3-D printed prosthetic arm  that can be both customized and voice-controlled for about $260. His project won first place last February at the  Irvine Public School District Fair. He then went on to win four more first-place awards in the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair. Ultimately, he was chosen to enter the 2015 Intel International Science  and Engineering Fair where he won third place in the bio-medical and health science category. He also won third place in the California State Science Fair.

 

Nilay Mehta and his Prosthetic Arm: Source:Don Leach, Daily PilotNilay Mehta and his Prosthetic Arm: Source:Don Leach, Daily Pilot

 

How was the 3-D printed prosthetic arm created?

It all began with a school project that came out well but remained too costly to be helpful to amputees. Mehta's goal was to make a low cost voice-controlled, robotic prosthetic and he succeeded by eliminating unnecessary motors and utilizing a combination of motors and 3-D printed parts, which serve as the functional aspects of the prosthetic. By combining electromyography and voice control, this brilliant young inventor was able to program the hand to perform basic functions, such as grasping an object or pointing at something. An embedded microphone registers the user's voice commands and executes the desired action. In Mehta's own words: "You can say 'spoon' and the hand will make a shape that will be able to hold a spoon."

 

Prosthetic Arm and Parts: Source: IFL ScienceProsthetic Arm and Parts: Source: IFL Science

 

The teenager received professional help with his project while it was in the design phase. University of California orthopedics professor, Gavin Periera, provided information on current amputation procedures and the Long Beach Public Library granted him acces to their 3-D printers.

The importance of customization

The ability to upgrade is rarely considered when manufacturing prosthetics, and, considering how expensive they are to replace, this is a vital factor when these devices are for children. Nilay Mehta has tackled this aspect head on, making his robotic arm marketable and practical. Costs will remain manageable, as 3-D parts are inexpensive, replaceable and can easily be resized to fit children who outgrow one prosthetic and need another.

The future of the 3-D printed, voice-controlled, prosthetic arm

This young man's initiative and intelligence has given hope for a better life for amputees everywhere. His next step is to market his invention. In his own words: "I'm done with the software. What I'm trying to do now is work on useability and design. Hopefully, some day it can be tested with an amputee and I can work on that process from there."

Good luck, Nilya Mehta. You are already almost there!

Closing thoughts on prosthetics:
My disability will always be a piece of me but if it is the only part you recognize, then you have only scratched the surface of who I am. ~ Donald A. Minor

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