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An Interview with Elena Ramirez, Maker of the Aquahand
August 11, 2015
Given the right direction and opportunity, students can accomplish amazing things. An earnest desire to learn and integration of some technology can also be key to the process of developing something new. Recently we learned about a group of students that took the skills they had learned as students at Lehigh University in the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and used it to create a device called the “Aquahand”. The Aquahand is an exoskeleton hand designed to help stroke victims with either spastic or flaccid muscle tone who are trying to regain motion or fine motor skills. It also happens to be constructed largely of parts which can be inexpensively printed using a 3D printer, making it a reasonably affordable tool to procure. We were able to get in contact with one of team members, Elena Ramirez, to get a little more insight as to how they came up with the Aquahand and learn about some of the other projects the team has worked on using 3D printing. The interview was conducted via email and the transcript is below.
1) When, how, and why did you come up with the idea for the Aquahand? How did you and rest of your team get started with 3D printing technology? Had any of you had some experience before you decided to design the Aquahand?
As we started actually working on our research beginning Summer 2014 (opposed to preparation and proposal writing), we realized the market was pretty saturated with prosthetic hands. Furthermore, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Hospital in Allentown, PA, which whom we partnered, rarely saw a child in need of a prosthetic hand. One of our mentors, Marc de Vinck, showed us a video about a little girl with 3D printed exoskeleton arms (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoZ2BgPVtA0). We thought we could make a greater impact by designing exoskeletons so quickly changed direction. Our exoskeletons are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain&rsquols ability to change neural pathways and synapses due to repetitive motion. This is especially useful in stroke victims, who still have their muscles but need help repairing a damaged part of the brain. For the Aquahand, we drew inspiration from the Saeboflex but thought it valuable to create a 3D printed version. It is primarily for stroke victims with spastic muscle tone. Patients can hopefully regain gross grasp motion through repetitive movement. Including the Aquahand, we have four novel exoskeletons to facilitate movement of the hand and arm.
Jeffrey Peisner (Mechanical Engineering ’15) had experience 3D modeling and a little 3D printing, but Colleen Perry (Bioengineering ’15) and I (Bioengineering ’15) knew nothing of the process prior to our summer research. Because of our bioengineering background, Colleen and I were fascinated at the prospect of applying 3D printing technology to the medical field. A large part of Summer 2014 was figuring out how to use the modeling software and how to design for 3D printing, for which Jeff Peisner was invaluable.
For Summer 2015, we lost Colleen Perry but recruited three new members: Dan Levy (Mechanical Engineering ’16), Emily MacMillan (Bioengineering ’16), and Sam He (Computer Science and Business ’16). Dan had 3D modeling and printing experience, but the rest picked it up during the summer. The best part about Mountaintop is that we decided exactly what we wanted to do and Lehigh gave us resources so we could learn the skills needed to make it a reality..
2) What are the roles each of you plays in the process? Are you planning on formalizing a business or incorporating yourselves?
In the comment section of my Thingiverse page (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:944296) there are links to the other designs.
3) What would you say were the key courses from your undergraduate degree thus far that enabled you to take the design from concept to reality? Are you currently planning on pursuing further coursework towards a Master’s degree or Ph.D.?
I want to get a master’s or Ph.D., but first work for a year or two to get some experience..
4) Is this the first object you have designed and 3D printed? If not, what else have you designed and printed?
5) For those parts of the device that were unable to be 3D printed to this point, are you hoping to be able to find ways to print at least some of those objects in future designs or updates?
6) What type(s) of material did you use to manufacture the Aquahand? What type of printer did you use to make it?
7) Roughly how long does it take to manufacture all the parts needed? Does someone need to have some mechanical skills to put all the pieces together?
8) What are the future plans for the Aquahand or other items you would like to design?
I would love to design medical devices. I eventually want to get into Robotics. This project made me really interested in Neuroplasticity and I think by combining this concept with the robotic field we can improve a wide variety of medical conditions.
9) What do you think high schools and colleges can do better (if anything) to foster efforts related to 3D printing, STEM, or STEAM education for students?