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Students invent voice-activated grasping tool for disabled man

Using two motors, speech-recognition software and an exo-skeleton inspired by science fiction, three Johns Hopkins University undergraduates have designed and built a muscle enhancement device that will help a disabled man grasp and lift a cup, a book and other household items. By uttering commands such as open and raise, the man will receive mechanical help in moving his fingers and bending his elbow. The motorized plastic shell will fit over the right arm of the man, who has an extremely rare degenerative muscle disorder called inclusion body myositis

This device, which could be adapted for other people with disabilities, was developed during two semesters by students in the Department of Mechanical Engineering's Senior Design Project course. The project originated last summer when the man with the muscle disease sought help from Volunteers for Medical Engineering, a nonprofit Baltimore group that uses technology to assist people with disabilities. The client, who asked that his name not be disclosed, explained that his nerves were intact, meaning that he could control the placement of his fingers around an object. But progressive muscle deterioration left him unable to grasp and lift even small objects.

To help him, the VME sponsored a project in the Johns Hopkins course. The task of designing and building the device went to a team consisting of three senior students: Jonathan Hofeller, 21, a mechanical engineering major from Needham, Mass.; Christina Peace, 21, a biomedical engineering major from Baltimore; and Nathaniel Young, 22, a biomedical engineering major from Dayton, Ohio. The students researched prosthetic limbs and, taking a cue from props featured in the film Aliens, they designed a plastic exo-skeleton that could slide over the clients right hand and arm. To help move his fingers and elbow, the students tested and rejected systems using electromagnets and air pressure systems. They finally settled on two small but
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
410-516-7160
Johns Hopkins University
30-May-2002


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