Engineering students looking to give a hand

By Cameron Spera, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – There’s a lot happening on the Syracuse University hill this time of year. With only a couple weeks of school left, many students are completing their classes and work. Five engineering students, though, are still hard at work.

Tucked away in a science lab, a group of two computer engineers and three electrical engineers are working together to bring a project to life. The project, which they’ve been working on since last semester, is in the final stages.

The group is creating a mio-electric arm, which is essentially a robotic arm that would replace the typical prosthetic. The arm, powered by a battery much like the one in a cell phone.

“[Our arm] will be used fpr any amputee below the elbow and it will replace that whole part of their arm,” computer engineer Christina Tobias said.

The arm is in its final stages now after nine months of working in the lab.

“This semester we really started thinking, OK, what’s our final product going to be and how do we get to the final stage,” Matt Jean, a senior electrical engineer, said.

The arm came to life after creating a series of circuit boards connected to the battery that would power the arm. The arm has probes attached to it that stick on to the upper part of them. These probes measure muscles movement and tell the arm how to move based on which muscle movement is happening.

“We wanted the hand not to jitter and if you squeezed, we wanted it to squeeze pretty much proportionately to how hard you’re squeezing,” Jean said.

In efforts to make the hand as human-like as possible, the group 3D printed plastic pieces to represent the forearm and the top of the hand. The fingers are made from a material called Ninja Flex, which acts similarly to human skin and allows the hand to move fluidly.

Even with all of the special materials used to create the arm, the cost of the product is much lower than other prosthetic arms on the market. The team hopes that people will be able to take their model and see that amputees and others in need would be able to replace older, bulkier, and more expensive arms, with newer technologies.

After testing the product, the group estimates that the arm could last about seven or eight hours or basically a full work day for someone in need of the arm. They hope to continue to work on the battery life so that people can use the arm all day.

“As of right now, we’ve gotten it to work for quite a long time,” Jean said. “Ideally, it would last a day and they would have to recharge it when they got home. They would just plug it in like you would plug in your cell phone.”

The group will put the finishing touches on the arm this week and will present their project to a group of professors and engineers this weekend.