Research

Robotic Arms for Disabled Children

A group of five DTU lecturers had the idea of creating robotic arms for two disabled children from Quang Nam, to reduce the daily hardships they faced at home and school.

Lecturer Le Thanh Thao found out about Phan Trong Hieu when she was on an American exchange program, at a college that had a prosthetics research center for the disabled. She immediately arranged to apply their work in Vietnam. The Robotica team at the DTU Center for Electricity and Electronics (CEE) was then founded with the enthusiastic support of a team of lecturers, including Mr. Dang Ngoc Sy, Dinh Huu Quang, Pham Quyen Anh, Dr. Ta Quoc Bao, from the Center for Advanced Chemistry, and originator, Ms. Thao, from the Silver Swallows Studio. They quickly set to work creating robotic arms for disabled, needy students. 

After many years of organizing the ROBOCON Vietnam robot contest and winning many prizes, including one for the best hand-controlled robot and automatic robot in 2013, and a third place and a style prize in 2014, the new robotic arm project posed few problems for the Robotica team. The only challenge was to supply disabled students in financial difficulty with compact prostheses at an economical cost of between 300,000 and 500,000 vnd. 

Fulfilling their dreams

Hieu lives in Ai Nghia, in the Dai Loc district of Quang Nam. Four years ago, when he was tending the cattle, Hieu lost most of his right arm and part of his left one because of an unexploded bomb. After the accident, Hieu became shy and started avoiding people. Determined to help Hieu continue his studies, his mother had the idea of boring holes in a plastic pipe and inserting pens so he could write.

Many months after he gradually got used to his new arms, his mother, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Dao, is still so happy when she now sees him actively riding a bicycle and doing simple things by himself, such as pouring water, feeding and washing himself, preparing his school books and so on. 
 
Hieu was quickly able to grasp objects of varying sizes and weights independently

The DTU Robot Arm team also donated a robotic arm to Tran Dang Khoa, a sixth-grader at the Nguyen Hue Junior High school in Dai Loc. Khoa was born without a left arm, which made him unconfident with others but Khoa’s parents were too poor to afford prosthetics. So they were jubilant when they heard their son shout out, “I have two hands now!”

 ThS. Ð?ng Ng?c S? dang l?p Cánh tay “Robot”cho em Tr?n Ðang Khoa. T
Mr. Dang Ngoc Sy fitting a robotic arm onto Tran Dang Khoa

The objective was to create an economical product for all

The essential materials used to construct the prostheses were plastic wires, non-stretch zippers, water-absorbant padding and highly durable Velcro. DTU also invested in two plastic 3D printers, using visible-ray technology, and CEE manufactured two additional plastic-melting 3D printers to create the specialized components with high accuracy and durability.

To simulate a real arm in 3D, the Robotica team had to carefully design each finger, hand, arm, joint and muscles, used the Solidworks software, before sending the design to the 3D printers. The printing took much time, six hours on average, with some parts taking up to 15. For accuracy, the printing had to be repeated several times to compute the forces and the exact fitting on the children. The research group made several trips to Quang Nam to meet them and take accurate measurements. Hieu’s case was not congenital, so the measurements of his left and right arms were completely different and many adjustments were necessary.

“The first prototype was only 50% efficient after fitting,” said Mr. Sy, CEE Vice-Director, “but the third version was very successful.” The robotic arms then met requirements and were sufficiently compact, lightweight and highly esthetic, which allowed users to firmly grasp objects of various sizes and weights. Mr. Sy explained that creating inexpensive robotic arms requires a mastery of technology and finding all the necessary, special materials.

After the success of their second version, the Robotica team continues to construct a third version for different types of other disabilities. “Our objective is to provide for the disabled from 10 to 25 years- old,” said Mr. Sy. “In the future, we will enhance the product esthetically, making it even more compact, in eye-catching colors. One of the most important goals is to establish self-confidence and comfort when children use the robotic arms.”

The group also set itself the goal of designing smart arms equipped with sensors that can interpret electrical signals from the central nervous system, to control muscles and execute movements, so that the disabled can overcome even more of their daily difficulties.

(Media Center)

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