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BME Seniors and eNable Club Members Build Adaptive Device for Haiti Boy

Published: 9 months ago | 0 comments

After the successful completion of a project that has been in the making for more than a year, an 11-year-old boy in Haiti now has a new adaptive device built by Duke students.

Senior biomedical engineering major Emily Shannon first met Chris in the summer of 2016, while on a trip to Haiti with members of her church. When she saw a boy across the street missing half his arm, she said a “crazy idea” began to form.

The year before, the then-sophomore Emily had joined eNable, eNable, a student organization at Duke. eNable began as an offshoot from a national community of volunteers who use 3-D printing and open-source files to create low-cost adaptive devices for people who need them.

Emily met Chris, who was born with a congenital amputation, and came back to Duke the next year with a plan to help him. There was plenty of logistical work to be done – the team had to secure funding, as well as permission from Duke to travel to Haiti – as well as the technical work building the device.

Emily, who this year is serving as the president of eNable, enlisted the help of her fellow eNable members, Joel Tewksbury and Gabriel Antoniak. Joel and Gabriel, who are also both senior BME majors, are serving this year as eNable vice president and treasurer, respectively.

eNable has about 50 people on its roster, but because the three Pratt students were on campus for the summer of 2017 doing research, they took the lead on the project.

“We’d work a full day in our research labs, and then we’d come to the Innovation Co-Lab to work on the arm,” Gabriel said.

The Innovation Co-Lab is equipped with everything the team needed, including free use of multiple 3-D scanners for them to print out their finished product.

eNable got its start in the Co-Lab last year when the club’s two co-founders, Henry Warder and Richard Beckett-Ansa, applied for and received a grant. That grant came from a collaboration to support open-source programming among Red Hat, Duke’s Social Science Research Institute, and the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative.

For this specific project, the team was able to use open-source code for some of the parts, like the hand.

“We used code for a basic gripping device, but made a few tweaks,” Joel said. “For example, we wanted Chris to be able to hold larger, curved items like a water bottle, so we made the thumb a bit more curved. It’s great that we can take this open source material and modify it to fit our needs.”

But the team also started from scratch on parts of the project, like the forearm. Gabriel taught himself CAD, or computer-aided design, which he said took “hours of Googling.”

Using CAD was good for this project, Gabriel said, because it helps build complex structures from scratch and allows engineers to look at every dimension of the structure.

The team had to be innovative in its approach, building the first prototype of the arm without Chris’ exact measurements and making do with photos of a tape measure against his arm.

Because of the uncertainty, they made different sizes of each part – hand, forearm, and socket to connect the adaptive device to Chris’ body – to accommodate for sizing issues.

“There are a lot of considerations to take into account,” Gabriel said. “The arm has to fit, look natural, and be comfortable while still being functional.”

Eventually, the funding came through, after they met and networked with Pratt alumni who had founded the Given Limb Foundation to support adaptive device research and delivery. The group also secured a combined grant from the Lord Foundation and the Engineering Alumni Council.

With funding in hand, the eNable students drafted their plan carefully. They had two visits to Haiti to make it work.

They scheduled the first trip for the end of June. Gabriel and Emily took a basic prototype of the arm and the differently sized parts, as well as a plaster kit and a 3-D structure scanner to take more accurate measurements of Chris’ arm.

“This entire club is really one big problem-solving design challenge,” Emily said. “You have to plan for things going wrong and bring extra tools just in case.”

Upon their arrival in Haiti, there were more challenges, including communicating with Chris and his family to explain their processes. With the help of a translator and the Creole 101 course Emily had taken, they were able to complete the measurements and fitting.

After an additional month of work, Emily and Joel took the arm to Haiti at the beginning of August for the final fitting with Chris.

During that fitting, the hand didn’t grip as well as they would have liked, but they adapted by coating the inside of the hand with a non-slip plastic and playing around with the rubber band that determines grip strength.

Having successfully built and fitted Chris’ arm, the team is turning to its next projects. The club members are constantly iterating and have built about 20 to 30 different versions of adaptive devices for four recipients so far.

The leadership of eNable is happy the club is able to fulfill a need and build cost-effective adaptive devices that either can provide niche capabilities or can help recipients transition toward professional adaptive devices.

They’re also grateful that they have a place like the Innovation Co-Lab in which they can build.

“The tools are there, and the support is there,” Gabriel said. “Without them, this would have been much more difficult.”

By Katie Jansen, Duke I&E | Video by Innovation Co-Lab

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