An exoskeleton made by a 3D printer: the Titan Arm

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TITAN ARM is a robotic arm that increases physical strength tenfold.

Useful for avoiding accidents at work, helping injured patients in rehabilitation, or simply for anyone wishing to increase their muscle strength by an extra 18 kg: physical therapy or mobility aid, it also provides detailed quantitative information for doctors that can be used to motivate their patients by monitoring the improvement of their health over time.

Titan Arm is the result of a joint project by four American mechanical engineering students from the University of Pennsylvania that lasted more than eight months. Using CAD software coupled with techniques such as 3D printing for plastic parts and CNC machining (numerical machine tools) for aluminium parts, they produced several physical prototypes, which led to the ergonomic shape of Titan. At the same time, they developed customized software to control the appearance and transmit data in real time to the therapists.

The equipment is designed as a backpack, from a metal stand that is used to hold scuba diving cylinders. This provides the necessary rigidity for the exoskeleton to function, which transfers the weight lifted to this support. The latter receives the servomotors, the batteries as well as the on-board electronics.

The exoskeleton is fixed from the shoulder and up to the wrist, with a set of joints that offer full mobility to the arm. The set weighs nine kilos and the battery life is eight hours. The motorized mechanism is operated by a set of cables that manoeuvre the pulley, located at elbow level. A detent gear locks the position of the arm, which can be used to move a heavy object. The exoskeleton could thus help workers who handle heavy loads to avoid injuries and other musculoskeletal trauma.

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Current Exoskeleton prices are prohibitive at over $ 100,000. Using Lean principles, Titan was created with less than 2000 $.

This innovation has just won the James Dyson Award and an award of 48,000 euros.
With this award, the University of Pennsylvania team will continue the development of the Titan Arm. The exoskeleton is currently controlled using a joystick-type controller, but the goal is to adapt a control system based on brain waves or muscle contractions. There is also talk of adding a second arm. In addition, the designers of the Titan Arm wish to make this project open source and publish the 3D printing plans so that the scientific community can make it evolve.

Photos ©University of Pennsylvania - USA

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