Dec 5, 2015 | By Benedict

Limbitless Solutions, a non-profit organization founded by students at the University of Central Florida, has developed a 3D printed device which allows wheelchairs users to move their chairs with simple facial movements. The organization made the news back in August when it donated several 3D printed bionic arms to displaced Syrian children.

“This was just an idea a year ago,” said Limbitless founder and CEO Albert Manero of the 3D printed wheelchair device. “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 3D printed device required a lot of technical expertise to produce, but is easy for users to master. A small box consisting of various electronic components attaches to the joystick of a wheelchair, whilst electromyographic sensors are placed on the user’s face, near to the forehead. These sensors detect facial movements, and data is transmitted from the sensors to the box, which in turn controls the joystick.

The device is functionally similar to the prize-winning 3D printed technology developed by Patrick Joyce, Steve Evans and David Hopkinson, on which we reported last week. Both sets of 3D printed apparatus allow wheelchair users to control their chairs without use of their arms, but Joyce’s invention registers eye movement, where the Limbitless device uses jaw movement.

The 3D printed device developed by Limbitless Solutions has already been tested in a public setting. Quadriplegic wheelchair user Charlie Merritt tried out the 3D printed device on Tuesday, November 24th at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at UCF. The U.S. Marine and former power-lifting champion, who was injured in a diving accident in 2014, was able to master the apparatus in just five minutes.

“It was pretty easy,” Merritt said. “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 ongoing research and development being carried out by Limbitless Solutions is helping to bring invaluable technology to wheelchair users, with no monetary profit in mind. According to the first user of the organization’s new 3D printed device, this is a rare occurrence in the present day. “There are not a lot of organizations willing to put forth the effort to innovate for spinal-cord injuries,” Merritt admitted.

The affordability of the new 3D printed device was also noted, with Merritt pointing out the huge difference in cost between the Limbitless product and his own current gear. The 3D printed device developed by Limbitless costs between $250 to $350, significantly cheaper than alternatives on the market. “Thousands of dollars less,” Merritt said. “You’re talking $300 for what they’re doing and $5,000 to $7,000 for the device I use currently.”

The Marine described the process of simple facial movements required to move the wheelchair: “The right side of your jaw to go right; the left side of your jaw to go left. I’m part of the video game generation so I got that down.”

However, the oral movement required to operate the 3D printed device does come with a minor drawback. “Chewing gum is kinda out of the question when you’re using it,” Merritt joked.

Limbitless Solutions has been attracting more members after successfully donating seven 3D printed bionic arms to children, each costing around $350 to produce. Some of those newer members, like mechanical engineering major Megan Pence, helped to develop the 3D printed wheelchair device. “I was really excited to work on this project because we are helping people,” said Pence. “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 device was developed and 3D printed in the Texas Instruments Innovation Lab, one of several Maker Space labs at the university built with industry support. “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.”

Manero also acknowledged the importance of the external backing which enables students to carry out such positive work. “It takes community support, it takes university and corporate support,” the CEO explained.

Manero hopes to bring the organization’s 3D printed device to a large number of recipients in the near future: “Our goal is to get this technology in the hands of a wheelchair company or a veteran’s association so they can get the device to veterans in mass.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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