Capstone Profile: Million Hands team: creating prosthetic hands for children

By Maya Rector

Student team members from left to right: Jacqueline Nguyen,Sina Dabiri, Meng-Hsuan (Annie) Lee, Jose Ramirez, Aastha Shah, and Aashish Bhardwaj

Each year, UC Berkeley Master of Engineering students work on a team of 3 to 5 students with the goal of engineering solutions using cutting edge technology and methods to address crucial industry, market or societal needs. We’ll be documenting several capstone teams as they work on their year-long projects, one of them being the Million Hands team comprised of Bioengineering students Aastha Shah, Aashish Bhardwaj,Sina Dabiri, Jose Ramirez, and mechanical engineering students Jacqueline Nguyen and Annie Lee. Engineering professors Alice Agogino and Grace O’Connell are the advisors of the project, and Daniel Lim, Berkeley MEng alumnus from the class of 2015, is the PhD lead on the project.

The Million Hands team is working to create prosthetic hands through 3D printing in order to make day-to-day activities easier for those with missing limbs and digits. The team’s short term goal is to develop a myoelectric controlled finger, but they also plan to build an open source platform for prosthetics design on the web. Currently, the project is being funded by both a CITRIS grant and a grant from a private investor.

Recently, the team visited the UCSF prosthetic institute to learn more about the current prosthetics market. During this meeting, they were able to gauge what the US population looks for versus what the rest of the population looks for in terms of their decisions when buying prosthetics.

Several of Daniel Lim’s Multimaterial 3D printed models, courtesy of Daniel Lim

During their meeting with UCSF, the team discussed the pros and cons of myoelectric technologies since they are looking at myo electric devices to control the prosthetics that they are working on. Due to the face that the technology is fairly new, there are several issues that still need to be worked out in order to optimize customer satisfaction. For instance, the team learned about a Vietnam veteran who is recently transitioning to myoelectric technology, and he has come to learn that there is definitely a learning curve when switching to this new technology.

The resilience and reliability of the technology is also still in question since it is relatively new, and it can be too heavy and bulky for patients which can make it uncomfortable at times. For these reasons, UCSF is not currently working with Myo patients. However, the engineers behind Myoelectric technology are keeping these concerns in mind going forward in order to create the best possible products for their customers.

Currently, the team is working hands-on with patients to do prototyping in order to customize prosthetics using 3D printing. The combination of bioengineers and mechanical engineers on the project means that the team has an advantage when it comes to designing prototypes that are both mechanically functional and modeled around the human body in order to successfully complete everyday activities. Since the team is working directly with patients, they frequently receive feedback and correspond back and forth in order to meet patients’ specific needs.

The research behind the project originally began with MEng alumnus Daniel Lim from the class of 2015, who is currently working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley.

Lim’s research developed from his Sophie’s Super Hand project that aimed to customize a prosthetic hand for a young girl named Sophie who wanted to use the monkey bars on the playground. Since then, Daniel has been working closely with patients in need of prosthetics that are functional and suited specifically to their needs. Carrying on this mentality, Lim and the the team are currently working on making prosthetic hands specialized to the interests of patients, which include prosthetic models designed for patients to play instruments such as the drums and ukulele.

Sophie’s super hand media coverage, courtesy of Daniel Lim

Ultimately, the team plans to have an open source design site for their prosthetic models up by the end of the semester. By working with new technology and combining their bioengineering and mechanical engineering backgrounds, the team is playing a key role in customizing and revolutionizing the future of prosthetics, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store.