From the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, a group of students from the electrical engineering department have been working on a producing a prosthetic hand that has the advanced features that permit greater control from users while still retaining its cheap price. A PhD candidate by the name Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed is the engineer spear-heading this project.
In relation to the affordability of this product when concluded, the students stated that they will be using 3D printing which will help them keep the cost of production at a low price when compared with the commercially available prosthetics with the same capabilities.
“The project started when I was doing my Masters research, I was looking for an application for control engineering in the body and I stumbled across this idea where you can control a robotic prosthetic hand with neural signals from the body. So I thought to myself that is something really valuable, imagine the case where a person doesn’t have a hand and here you provide them with this robotic prosthetic hand, and now all of a sudden they are able to do things they thought they would never be able to do again,” Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed said.
Knowing fully well that Robotics cost as much as US$10,000, it is expected that this technology which is not entirely new will have enormous impact on the amputees and persons with impaired motor functions, seeing its coming with a cost of about US$ 150. This prosthetic hand is prompted by the movement of muscles by the brain, giving enough room for neural influence, a kind of improvement that has not been recorded in many of the basic available models.
“Depending on where the level of amputation would be, it would either be connected to the forearm, or the bicep, or even the shoulder. The user will then intend to move the hand and initiate the movement of the hand by contracting one of these muscles, either the forearm or the bicep and then in the hand will then contract and produce a specific movement,” said Mohamed.
South Africa’s Amputee Club, a non-profit organization has already signified interest and support for this new innovation, seeing that this organization as at 2011, recorded the number of amputees in South Africa to be around 2.1 million people and many of these people cannot afford the available prosthetics or they find the models too complicated and some complained of the weight. This has geared some of the companies producing these robot prosthetic for the last three years to begin work in developing simple functions like holding a pen. This year have witnessed the addition of sensors to the fingers to allow for the feeling of objects.
“The big advancement that we have brought to the hand this year was the ability to control the grip-strength of the hand, but more fundamentally was adding sensory feedback to the hand so that the patient or amputee could actually start feeling what the hand is feeling in the same way that the normal hand would be able to feel and also give them a much greater sense of embodying the hand,” said team member Nabeel Seedat.
The students are hopefully working towards testing the products on amputees in the next three years before they can begin production on a large scale and sell commercially.