Robotic exoskeletal arm raises hope for paraplegics

Robotic arm/CBS 42

[lin_video src=×9&auto_next=1&auto_start=0&div_id=videoplayer-1366878555&height=510&page_count=5&pf_id=9624&show_title=1&va_id=4031590&width=480&windows=2 service=syndicaster width=480 height=510 div_id=videoplayer-1366878555 type=script]TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) – Two Hewitt-Trussville High School students are getting high marks for their robotic arm project designed to help people with paralysis.

Darby Franklin and Bella Goubeaux took third place in the regional and state science and engineering fairs, for their sip and puff robotic exoskeleton arm. With the device, a person who has limited or no movement with their arms and hands can successfully grab a glass and lift it toward their mouth.

The project is part of their Biomedical Innovations class at the HTHS Biomedical Sciences Academy.

Some of the components were donated, but they had to get pretty creative to make the arm work. For example, the design incorporates the power window motor from a Ford Ranger.

The breath controlled device attaches to the arm, but the idea comes from the heart. Darby Franklin realized there was a need after her brother Jamison Alexander Franklin was paralyzed in an accident in 2011, shortly after dropping her off at school.

“This is a sip and puff robotic arm exoskeleton. And basically it would just allow my brother to have a little bit more independence in his daily life,” said Franklin.

Jamison has shown tremendous grit and battled back from an injury that is frequently fatal.

Not only that, but he’s also defied the odds and regained some mobility that doctors thought might forever be out of reach. He continues to adapt, and graduated HTHS last year.

As his journey continues, many activities that were once simple are now challenging. He has long planned to become an electrical engineer like his father. And now it seems his sister is discovering a passion for wiring diagrams as well, fueled by her determination to help her brother and others facing similar challenges.

Darby and Bella’s exoskeletal arm project lined up perfectly with what Biomedical Sciences Academy instructor Chris Walters challenged the class to accomplish. “We sat down with our students and said we want you to come up with an idea and a problem that’s bigger than Trussville, that we can design a solution for,” said Walters.

After some failed attempts and electrical fires, some donated parts, and a lot of imagination, Darby and her classmate came up with a solution that works.

The truck power window motor that provides the lift was provided by a local automotive business. The sleeve that straps onto the user’s arm was made to order with the school’s 3D printer. The user can control the arm through breath tubes that translate different air movements into electrical signals. Those were donated by the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where Jamison spent time during his early rehabilitation.

The prototype won them third place at the Regional Science and Engineering Fair in Birmingham and third place out of hundreds of competitors at the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair.

“They won a national society of Professional Engineers Award,” said Walters.” And then they won an Armed Forces Award and also won a Rocket City Rednecks award.”

“We could definitely take this further. It needs some work,” said Walters.

“After his accident I really kind of knew what I wanted to do. It didn’t take long for me to be sure of what I wanted to do and that was to help people like him, people in car accidents, any kind of spinal cord injury,” said Franklin.

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