Pop bottle, bike pump used to make innovative prosthetic arm
Jeff Lagerquist, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, April 3, 2017 11:13PM EDT
The original Canadarm cost about $100 million when it was built as a joint venture between the Canadian and U.S. governments in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Today, a team from the University of Calgary is unveiling another ambitious arm-based project -- albeit for a fraction of the development cost.
They’ve dubbed it the Calgary Arm, and it cost just 25 bucks.
The pneumatic device may consist of a humble bicycle pump, a hacked-up pop bottle, a balloon full of sugar. And yes, it is held together with duct tape. But the project could one day change the lives of amputees across the developing world.
“The objects that we bought, you should be able to buy anywhere. If it’s not bought, it was out of our recycling bins,” engineering student Tyler Anker told CTV News on Monday.
The Calgary Arm is a prosthetic capable of picking up small objects. The materials may be somewhat crude, but the device offers enough dexterity for the user to grasp and release virtually anything you would with a human hand, and even pick up a pen and write.
“The concept and the product look simple, but there was a bit of math that went into it,” said mechanical engineering student Shalese Baxandall.
The sugar-filled balloon serves as the Calgary Arm’s “hand.” It uses the suction power of the foot-operated bike pump, which has been hooked up backwards, to expand and contract. The pop bottle functions as a sleeve.
Unlike some of the groups showing off their final projects, team Calgary Arm isn’t looking to patent their invention or land a lucrative partnership a with top medical science firm. They’re giving away the blueprints for free, and even showing people how to make one on their own through a tutorial video.
“Here in Canada it might not be that feasible to use a $25 prosthetic, but in other countries where people can’t afford (expensive devices), and where people struggle with amputations, we thing it could be pretty useful,” said Anker.
“If it helps the world, I feel good about that,” added Baxandall.
With a report from CTV Calgary’s Kevin Green