Three undergraduate bioengineering students at Rice University in Houston, Texas, have built a robotic arm for Dee Faught. The 17 year old suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic malady that makes his bones brittle. Faught wishes to perform routine tasks, such as picking up objects like shirts and books, reaching into cabinets for food and medicine and moving more freely in the world.
The robotic arm is attached to the back of Faught’s wheelchair, arching over his head, with a mechanical hand that can be moved and positioned with a handheld controller. Initially, Faught tested the arm by performing simple movements and tasks and provided feedback to the team. Now the team is making the requested changes and will turn the device over to Faught permanently when complete.
The undergraduates include Matthew Nojoomi, Nimish Mittal and Sergio Gonzalez, who formed a group called “R-ARM” and began thinking about how they might help Faught become more independent. The students worked over a period of two years, finally inventing the robotic arm Faught now uses in a variety of ways, increasing his independence. He is now able to do what many of us take for granted: get what we want, when we want it, without relying on others.
Faught plans to attend Houston Community College and pursue a career in music. The “R-ARM” team presented its invention to the Biomedical Engineering Society conference in Seattle this past weekend.