Two 20-year-old university students are looking to solve what they say is a “problem” in the world of robotic prosthetics for amputees: some of the best technology can be out of many people’s means, with some arms costing more than $100,000.
Hamayal Choudhry has teamed up with a friend, Samin Khan, to create smartARM, a 3D-printed bionic arm they aim to sell for less than $1,000.
“We both share this similar philosophy of wanting to use our education and our skills in technology to really make something that creates impact beyond just us,” said Choudhry, who is a megatronics engineering student at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, Ont.
Khan, who is studying at the University of Toronto with a double major in computer and cognitive sciences, says, “We want to provide access to as many as possible by leveraging really cool, innovative technology.”
The device has three parts: a camera embedded in the palm of the arm, which is connected to a computer at the bottom of the device as well as a muscle-sensing armband that, through Bluetooth, sends signals to the computer. The camera detects whatever is in front of it, from a pair of keys to a wine glass, and determines the right grip to pick it up.
Jason Lucci, who had his forearm amputated after a work accident in 2017, uses a robotic arm worth $140,000. Holding smartARM, he says the technology is “super lightweight,” whereas his arm is heavier.
“It’s pretty cool that there’s a camera in it,” said Lucci, who is a founding member of the Amputee Coalition of Toronto. “You can actually scan different items to grip them rather than having to program a hand or have a certain gesture to actually grab it.”
The pair say they’re aiming to have their arm do nearly everything a human hand can. Choudhry says the arm is actively learning on a cloud database, so the longer “you use it, the better it knows you.”
“That carries on with you for your entire life,” he says.
The duo’s invention is now award-winning — they took home the Microsoft Imagine Cup, and $85,000, after placing first in the world finals this year.
Leo Plue, an accessibility advocate, says smartARM may be a game-changer in the realm of prosthetics. “It’s creating a brand new kind of technology that’s going to meet the needs of a lot of amputees and it’s going to be cost effective, so they can, in fact, afford it and it’s going to change their lives.”
Khan and Choudhry say they are currently working with clinicians in Toronto to take their technology from a prototype to a patented product on the market.
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