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Students design $25 prosthetic arm created with bike pump, balloon and sugar

All that was needed for a six-person team to create a prosthetic arm capable of gripping, picking up and releasing objects was a bike pump, some sugar and a balloon.

Tyler Anker and Joel Neumann were part of a team that invented the 'Calgary Arm' for Capstone Design Fair

Tyler Anker, left, and Joel Neumann created a prosthetic arm out of a bike pump and a balloon filled with sugar. (Erika Stark/YouTube)

All that was needed for a six-person team to create a prosthetic arm capable of gripping, picking up and releasing objects was a bike pump, some sugar and a balloon.

University of Calgary students Tyler Anker, Joel Neumann, Rohan Antony, Peter Hillman, Shalese Baxandall and Amanda Mackey invented what they're calling the "Calgary Arm" for the Schulich School of Engineering's Capstone Design Fair.

"The hope is that with really easily accessible materials, anyone within a developing nation could theoretically come up with their own materials and make their own prosthetic," Anker told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Hopefully it can help someone out."

How it works

At the end of the "arm" — which is an empty one-litre pop bottle with the bottom cut out of it — there's a balloon filled with sugar.

"When there's no vacuum applied to it, it's soft, so it can deform around any object," said Neumann.

Attached to the balloon is a bike pump that's been reversed, so it acts as a vacuum rather than a pump. The pump operates by pressing down on a loop of rope with your foot.

All that was needed for a six-person team to create a prosthetic arm capable of gripping, picking up and releasing objects was a bike pump, some sugar and a balloon. 0:37

"When you apply the vacuum, it [the balloon] gets really hard, and then it can pick up the object," he said. "As long as you can keep the vacuum on, the object is being grasped."

It's called a jamming gripper, and is often used in robotics.

"It's so diverse, it can pick up different textured shapes and different sized shapes," Neumann said. 

The cost: $25.

Limitations

Like any invention, the "Calgary Arm" has its flaws.

"In testing, the balloon really stretches out if you put a lot of weight on it," Anker said. "After a kilogram or two, you're probably not going to get a lot of good out of it."

It's also difficult to hold things for longer than 15 minutes, he added.

Anker, Neumann and the team are hoping to improve on the design and eventually send it out to those who may benefit from the device. 

The "Calgary Arm" will be on display along with other U of C engineering projects at the Capstone Design Fair.

University of Calgary students came together Monday to show off their professional and technical knowledge. 0:43

It was held on Monday afternoon at the Olympic Oval.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said Tyler Anker and Joel Neumann invented the "Calgary Arm." They were part of a six-person team that worked on the project.
    Apr 03, 2017 11:32 AM MT