3-D Printed Device Gives More Independence to People in Wheelchairs
Limbitless Solutions, the team of University of Central Florida students that creates and donates bionic arms for children, has developed a new 3-D device that moves wheelchairs with simple facial movements.
“This was just an idea a year ago,” said Limbitless’ founder and CEO Albert Manero. “Then some of our newest members took the idea and ran with it as their senior design project. Now we can make a difference for our veterans who have made sacrifices defending us, or people who have lost function due to car accidents. I couldn’t be more proud of our team and am so excited to be able to help a whole other group of people.”
The team put together several electronic components into a small box that attaches to the joystick on a wheelchair. Electromyographic sensors are then placed on the person’s face, near their forehead. The sensors send a signal to the box and depending on which muscles are used, the signal moves the joystick propelling the person forward, backwards, right or left. Seems complicated, but it took quadriplegic Charlie Merritt only five minutes to master it.
The U.S. Marine and former power-lifting champion, who was injured in a diving accident in 2014, demonstrated the technology Tuesday at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at UCF.
“It was pretty easy,” Merritt said when he tested out the device. “This will give individuals with spinal-cord injuries another option, which is currently not available to be independent. I don’t know how to measure the impact of that. I guess you would say it’s priceless.”
The design and technology come from Limbitless Solutions, a UCF-based non-profit student group that last year debuted on the humanitarian scene by building 3-D printed bionic arms for about $350 and giving them to children at no cost. They have helped seven children to date and will deliver 12 more arms to children across the nation in time for Christmas as part of the team’s 12 Days of Christmas Campaign.
Some of the team’s newest members developed the wheelchair project.
“I was really excited to work on this project because we are helping people,” said Megan Pence, one of the mechanical engineering majors who developed the chair. “We worked well as a team learning to understand our strengths and complimenting them to add value. It’s great to see it working.”
The wheelchair kits are produced for $300 to $500 compared to other technology on the market that ranges from $700 to $1,000.
The team unveiled the new device today in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, which is home to the non-profit. The wheelchair device was created in the Texas Instruments Innovation Lab, one of several Maker Space labs that the college created with industry support to encourage students to blend engineering prowess and creativity.
“This is exactly the kind of innovation we encourage here,” said Dean Michael Georgiopoulos. “With the help of our corporate sponsors, excellent faculty and amazing students we are on the cutting edge of engineering that solves real-life problems.”
Merritt said he hopes the prototype can be mass produced and shared with veterans around the country because it would certainly help some of those affected by severe spinal-cord injuries. Merritt is chronicling his journey on a blog in hopes of raising awareness of the plight of those paralyzed while serving their country. He is the treasurer for the Central Florida Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, a group that assist veterans with spinal-cord injuries.