United Arab Emirates – Millions of people around the world have lost an arm to birth defects, trauma, disease and war. While many of these amputees have access to – and success with – prosthetic limbs, a substantial percentage faces issues of availability, affordability and functionality. Inspired to help, three Ajman University (AU) biomedical-engineering students are developing a high-tech solution with the potential to assist everyone affected by limb loss.
“The need of the hour is an affordable, state-of-the-art, and customisable bionic arm,” says senior AU student Waleed Bin Nasi, who began working on an innovative response to the problem in 2015 with fellow biomedical-engineering majors Mohamed Abdalla Agam and Obida Al Najjar. Social responsibility has been an integral part of student DNA since the AU campus opened in 1988.
With seed money, mentoring and physical space provided by the AU Innovation Center, the students came up with a futuristic “smart arm” prototype that uses electroencephalography (EEG) waves to deliver instructions from the human brain to a 3D-printed limb. Less than two years later, their smart arm grabbed top honours in Senior Design at the 2017 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) UAE Student Day competition.
The students tackled conceptual, design and software challenges under the mentorship of Dr Mohamed Nasor, chair of Biomedical Engineering at AU, and with the assistance of Engineer Iyad Naim. Literally working hand in hand, the Smart Arm Team engineered the prototype to respond to 16 discreet sensors attached to a headset. Each sensor interprets electrical activity in the brain and sends wireless messages to the mechanical fingers. Thus far, informal testing has proved successful among fellow students; and, training time for learning how to operate the device has been reduced from days to minutes. The next step is to test the smart arm on amputee patients. Once volunteers have been recruited, laboratory trials will be underway.
“The uniqueness of our project is that it’s non-invasive, and can be tested easily without any complications,” Waleed explains. “We will show them our prototype and ask them to give their reviews as we are developing a new product. With their vital input, we will be able to make the Smart Arm even smarter.”