Chicago team hopes prosthetic arm wins award

November 6, 2011 7:08:52 AM PST
The winners of the James Dyson Award, the world's largest design competition, will be announced Tuesday.

The only team from the United States selected from 550 entries invented a prosthetic arm that is said to be the first affordable device.

The Open Socket team is made of three recent graduates from the University of Illinois Champaign. Their invention was created to improve the quality of life for amputees in developing countries.

At Dyson's headquarters in Chicago, team member Jonathan Naber is testing their affordable prosthetic arm on Randall Erley.

"The main difference between the open socket, which is our product, and other devices is that our device eliminated the need for a custom fit in the prosthetic device. So very much like we've seen in the movement of shoes needing to be custom fit to every user, now you go to the store and you buy a size 9 in Nike. We believe that prosthetic arms could eventually move from being custom fit to every user to be taken off the shelf in a small, medium and large fashion and fit to the user," said Naber.

The team's goal is to make it available for amputees in developing countries.

" We haven't hammered down our manufacturing details, but we are looking at a couple different options, and one of them is indeed to produce them in the country of Guatemala in order to distribute throughout Central America. Another option is go to the East Asian route and to produce in very affordable manufacturing facilities in East Asia," Naber said.

Sir James Dyson, founder of Dyson's Vacuums, created the award for the next generation of engineers, according to Dyson's Design Engineer Robert Green.

"The basis is to design something that solves a problem, which is something we do every day at Dyson. We look for the problems in the world and try to come up with solutions to them," said Green.

The prize is $14,000 for the students and $14,000 for the university.

"We basically award the cash to help them develop it, but we don't take any rights or developments or patents to the product. The product remains their invention," Green said.

If Jonathan and his team win:

"We will be applying the money to create the first batch of the open socket to deploy in the developing world," said Naber. "Also, if we were to win, our university's design department would also be given some money, which they would be able to use to sponsor other projects like IPTs."

After trying on the arm, Randall Erley says:

"It works very well. It's easy to work for something. I haven't worked before. It didn't take but a minute to get used to it."

"I like the function of it," Erley said. "It's very functional."

The James Dyson Award is only given to one team, once a year.

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