Looking at the above picture, don’t mistake it for Iron Man’s arm. It’s actually a fully-functioning bionic prosthetic for a seven-year-old kid.
Tony Stark never imagined his bionic suit would earn the superhero title of “Iron Man” – because technically, the suit is titanium alloy. Tyler Petresky, director of resource management of Limbitless Solutions, also never imagined his bionic prosthetic arm would gather the attention of millions.
Electronically wired and capable of moving, it can, for instance, open and close its hand if the user flexes their bicep. The limb was created by Limbitless Solutions, a non-profit made up of engineering students from the University of Central Florida, using donations and money they saved by sacrificing coffee. They specialize in designing 3d-printed limbs for children, because kids will quickly outgrow more expensive bionic limbs. It’s obvious, their creations don’t have the sense of touch and can’t be controlled by thoughts as shown in the movie, but kids will definitely appreciate looking like their favorite robot or superhero.
The arm works via surface electromyography, Albert Manero, head of the research team told at an interview. Electromyography (EMG) reads the electrical signal from the brain and transmits it to the arm, producing a signal that triggers the opening and closing of the hand. While the average prosthetic limb costs around $40,000, this limb cost the team around $350 in materials – they use a 3D printer from the university’s lab – and takes them approximately 30 to 50 hours to make them.
“To make an arm, a child is first measured (size of residual limb, length of limb, etc.) and the current model of the arm is then appropriately scaled,” the organization explains. “From there, minor tweaks to the design may be necessary to accommodate any features unique to that child’s condition, and then the arm is printed. From there the pieces are assembled and the electronics are wired together and set in place. Finally, the child must be fitted with the arm and an appropriate socket, and the EMG sensors are calibrated before the arm is ready for use.”
The Iron Man inspired bionic arm, in particular, was made for a kid named Alex, who also got an Optimus Prime version for Christmas. The interesting part is, the little boy received his new arm from the Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. Alex even got to chitchat with him when he was presented with his new arm.
Manero, said he was inspired by Ivan Owen, a special effects artist and puppeteer in Bellingham, Wash., who developed the first 3-D printed hand. Owen posted his design and instructions on Thingiverse, an online community to share 3-D designs.
In the future, expect to see bionic legs, assistive wheel chair technology, leg bracing and exoskeleton suits from Manero and his team.
“We will keep advancing the technology to help those in need,” Manero said. “And look to work with the VA for temporary solutions for veterans and the UN and UNICEF to support kids around the world.”