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Google Science Fair: A 3D-Printed Exoskeleton That Can Train a Paralyzed Hand to Move Again

A 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia develops an exoskeleton and control glove to revolutionize physical therapy for stroke patients

1 min read
Zain Samdani, a teen from Saudi Arabia, built a robotic hand exoskeleton to help stroke patients relearn fine motor skills
Photo: Tekla S. Perry

Rebuilding fine motor skills after a stroke takes intensive therapy that requires repeated attempts to use the affected hand, several times a day, day after day. Some therapies involve moving the affected fingers with the other hand until new brain pathways for hand control develop. Zain Samdani, a 16-year-old from Saudi Arabia and a finalist in the 2016 Google Science Fair, demonstrated a different approach at the finalist showcase on Tuesday.

Samdani, who says he’d seen family members struggling with hand rehab, built an exoskeleton out of 3D-printed segments. He connected that to a glove that he wired to control the robotic device. The patient, he says, can wear the glove on the functional hand, and use that hand’s movements to retrain the paralyzed hand. [See video, above.]

In early tests on patients, Samdani reports, in one day the exoskeleton led to levels of improvement that physical therapists wouldn’t typically see for weeks.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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