Nov.7, 2013

The Titan Arm, a battery-powered exoskeleton arm developed by four engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania has won the 2013 Dyson award.

The Titan Arm is an upper-body exoskeleton that can be used by people who lift heavy objects during work, as well as helping to rehabilitate people with back injuries. When workers repeatedly lift heavy items every day they face increased risk of arm and back injuries.

To prevent this, Titan augments the user's arm strength by 18 kg (40 pounds) to reduce fatigue, and braces the back to prevent poor lifting posture. Titan can be used to help stroke and injury victims rebuild muscle and relearn fine motor control. It also provides detailed quantitative feedback to doctors which can be used to motivate their patients by tracking improvement over time.

The students, all mechanical engineers, were inspired by exoskeleton products already on the market. Current exoskeletons are prohibitively expensive at more than $100,000. But they wanted to build something cheaper to help more people.

The team spent eight months creating the Titan Arm. They researched available exoskeletons and past academic projects, and decided to focus on the upper body, as most exoskeletons have aided the legs. They designed the mechanical, electrical, and control systems for the exoskeleton using CAD software coupled with techniques such as 3D printing and CNC machining. Finally they integrated the various systems to produce a functioning, wearable prototype, and the cost is less than $2,000.

The Titan Arm houses a small motor inside which transmits its power to the arm by metal cables. The arm is connected to a rigid back brace that is strapped to the wearer to maintain posture. The motor and actuator system combine to convert energy into motion, increasing strength by nearly 20 kilos. The whole arm weighs just 9kg.

The team were awarded £30,000 to fund further development. And a further £10,000 were donated to the University of Pennsylvania engineering department, which will be spent on improving its 3D printing setup.

"Titan Arm is obviously an ingenious design," Sir James Dyson said. "But the team's use of modern, rapid - and relatively inexpensive - manufacturing techniques makes the project even more compelling."

The team will also release a version of Titan as an open-source development platform for researchers to experiment and collaborate on.

Two runners-up, the Handie from Japan and the Cortex, from New Zealand both win £10,000. The Handie is a 3D printed prosthetic hand that recovers lost functions of amputees. The Cortex is a 3D printed plastic cast system for fracture support. The Cortex cast revolutionises the process by creating a strong, lightweight, ergonomic, waterproof, ventilated, fully supportive neo cortex that makes use of 3D printing technologies.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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