Ryerson students invent breakthrough brain-controlled prosthetic arm

Mar 30, 2011
Ryerson biomedical engineering students Michal Prywata and Thiago Caires' prosthetic arm is controlled by brain signals, which is a first in medical prosthetics.

Two Ryerson University undergraduate biomedical engineering students are changing the world of medical prosthetics with a newly developed prosthetic arm that is controlled by brain signals. The Artificial Muscle-Operated (AMO) Arm not only enables amputees more range of movement as compared to other prosthetic arms but it allows amputees to avoid invasive surgeries and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars. The AMO Arm is controlled by the user's brain signals and is powered by 'artificial muscles' - simple pneumatic pumps and valves - to create movements. In contrast, traditional prosthetic limbs – which typically offer more limited movements – rely on intricate and expensive electrical and mechanical components.

Developed by third-year student Thiago Caires and second-year student Michal Prywata, the AMO Arm is controlled by the brain and uses compressed air as the main source of power. The digital device makes use of signals in the brain that continue to fire even after a limb is amputated. Users wear a head-set that senses a signal – for example, the thought “up” – and sends it wirelessly to a miniature computer in the arm. The computer then compares the signal to others in a database. The resulting information is sent to the pneumatic system, which in turn, activates the arm to create the correct movement. Simulating the expansion and contraction of real muscles, the system makes use of compressed air from a small, refillable tank in the user’s pocket. The artificial muscle system created by Caires and Prywata is a first in the field of prosthetics and they continue to work on perfecting their system. For example, the pair is working on a design to fit the tank into the arm itself.

Since the device does not include microelectronics and motors, it costs one-quarter of other functional prosthetic arms, which can run users more than $80,000, depending on the complexity of the prosthesis. Other prosthetic arms with a similar degree of control require patients to undergo a complex muscle re-innervation surgery – a complicated procedure that costs about $300,000 and is not available in Canada and not covered by the provincial health plan. As the AMO Arm is non-invasive, the period of adjustment for new users is drastically decreased. While traditional may require weeks of learning and training, basic function with the AMO Arm can be mastered in mere minutes.

The AMO Arm can currently move up, down, left, right, as well as open and close.

“In just ten minutes of practising, a person can pick up the mind-control aspect of the technology,” says Prywata. Moreover, he says, the AMO Arm will not only benefit amputees, but could also be used as an assistive device on wheelchairs, enabling users to reach things with greater ease. The technology could also be used by the military to facilitate remote operations and in situations requiring robotics.

The initial concept for the AMO Arm was developed shortly after Caires and Prywata met at a Ryerson Engineering open house in fall 2009. Each showcased different projects and were impressed with the other's work. It took a year to develop the software program for the AMO Arm while the actual prototype was created during a marathon 72-hour design session.

Caires and Prywata's invention went on to win first prize at the 2011 Ryerson Engineering Competition, and took home first-place awards for innovative design and social awareness at the Ontario Engineering Competition in February. The wins at the provincial level qualified Caires and Prywata for the Canadian Engineering Competition, which was held earlier this month in Montreal. There, the AMO Arm placed second in the innovative design category.

Caires and Prywata are working to move each finger on the AMO Arm individually. “Independent finger movements require many more sensors,” Caires says. “For example, while not impossible, it’s still quite difficult to grab a key and unlock a door.”

In the future, the pair would also like the AMO Arm to sense different materials (e.g., an egg versus a full bottle of water) and adjust the force used proportionately. They have already developed an innovative concept for capacitive sensing which detects different materials prior to contact. The students also have plans to develop an adaptive system, one that will progressively “learn” from a user’s movements and carry them out seamlessly.

Although they are still students, Prywata and Caires are moving ahead on the commercialization of their innovations. They have formed their own company, Bionik Laboratories Inc. (www.bioniklabs.com), and are currently seeking three patents for the AMO Arm and their other technologies. Their recent acceptance into Ryerson’s home of innovation and commercialization: the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) will help them in achieving these goals.

Gaining residency in the DMZ (www.ryerson.ca/dmz) was a key move for their business which, while still quite recent, has already yielded positive results. “We were really impressed with the DMZ space initially, but didn't know about all the resources at our disposal and the exposure it would afford us until we got here. The first day we arrived, we were meeting people, including CEOs and within a week we were shooting a piece for the Discovery Channel.” says Prywata.

Through their time at the DMZ, Bionik is hoping to build their business and create partnerships and connections with organizations such as the Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) and MaRS, which fund medical research and development. “Our backgrounds are not business, so we have been learning quickly from the people around us at the DMZ.”

Explore further: Researchers develop a device for running shoes that prevents injuries

Provided by Ryerson University

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Smartphone technology improves prosthetic limbs

Dec 13, 2010

Losing a limb can be a devastating experience, and while electrically powered prostheses can serve as a replacement for a lost arm, they are notoriously difficult to operate, and will never fully replace normal hand function. ...

Scientists create illusion of having 3 arms

Feb 23, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- How we experience our own bodies is a classical question in psychology and neuroscience. It has long been believed that our body image is limited by our innate body plan – in other words ...

Recommended for you

Method to reconstruct overt and covert speech

16 hours ago

Can scientists read the mind, picking up inner thoughts? Interesting research has emerged in that direction. According to a report from New Scientist, researchers discuss their findings in converting brain ...

Study says upgrading infrastructure could reduce flood damage

Oct 29, 2014

The severe flooding that devastated a wide swath of Colorado last year might have been less destructive if the bridges, roads and other infrastructure had been upgraded or modernized, according to a new study from the University ...

Walk through buildings from your own device

Oct 29, 2014

Would you like to visit The Frick Collection art museum in New York City but can't find the time? No problem. You can take a 3-D virtual tour that will make you feel like you are there, thanks to Yasutaka ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TBW
not rated yet Mar 30, 2011
Very cool. My son goes to Ryerson.
jwalkeriii
not rated yet Mar 30, 2011
Where is video?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.