Growing up, our team has always been inspired by the possibilities provided through advances in bio-technologies. From the discovery of penicillin, to the potential of 3D bio-printing, our team wanted to tackle issue that could improve the quality of life of the people around us. Having team members studying both biomedical engineering and electrical/computer engineering, we sought to combine our skill sets and provide a new perspective on the growing presence of multiple sclerosis (MS). Being a unpredictable disease that can drastically change a person's life without warning, MS has caused millions to be unable to accomplish everyday tasks as the damaged myelin sheathes results in disruption of the flow of nerve impulses. This has a critical effect on people's nervous system, resulting in the inability to perform motor tasks such as lifting one's arm. A prevalent issue currently is the lack of available solutions to improve the quality of life for people inflicted with MS in underdeveloped countries. Contemporary solutions that assist in motor stimulation for MS patients are expensive and inaccessible to the majority of the public. Thus, our team was inspired to undertake this issue by developing an economically practical solution to this common affliction. By utilizing the aspects of electrical engineering to control the actuation of a pressure sensitive motor and the principles of biomedical engineering to design an ergonomic chassis, we were effectively able to illustrate how the future of bio-technology could be made possible with InBrace.
What it does
InBrace is a novel approach to tackling the disease of multiple sclerosis by utilizing two pressure sensitive senors that actuated two servo motors attached to the elbow joint of the chassis of the arm brace when activated. As the patient raises their arm, the senors located on the insides of the chassis senses the movement and applies a variable force to the motors meaning that as more force is applied to the senors, the motors are activated with a higher rpm. In turn, this allows the user to perform everyday tasks without the expense of losing motor functionality. Additionally, the adjustable casing of the arm brace allows users to customize the brace to their specific body shape and needs.
How we built it
We developed Inbrace using a variety of hardware and software tools such as SolidWorks, Arduino, and C programming. The motors used were DC servo motors and the casing was created using laser-cut acrylic. SolidWorks was used to design the chassis such as the elbow supports, and the hinge connections. Arduino was used as the medium for the firmware of InBrace. We utilized C programming to power the functionality of the overall project such as motor actuation and reading senor input. The sensors we used were force sensitive resistors. These provided a value based on how much force was applied to the sensor. Then based on the amount of force that was applied, we adjusted the speed of the motors.
Challenges we ran into
One major challenge we ran into was integrating the hardware, mechanical, and firmware aspects of our project. Initially, we had planned to used only one motor for our brace but after initial testing, we realized that the torque supplied by a 1:1 connection of the servo motor was not enough to help the user raise their arm. As a result, our team was forced to switched to a two motor design as well as changing the gear ratio from 1:1 to a 1:5 ratio. This resulted in the mechanical team having to redesign the left-side of the chassis to help integrate another motor. Additionally, we were not supplied with gears and this forced us to have to design and laser-cut our gears to help provide enough torque to our chassis. Finally, the firmware team encountered the challenge of having to integrate PID control systems to help stabilize both sides of the chassis by calibrating the amount of force each motor exerted.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Being the first hackathon for many of our team members, we were able to incorporate many of the skills that we learned in class to real-world situations. As this is our first year of university, we have not had many opportunities to create and design self-directed projects or ideas. For example, we have learned to use many programs such as SolidWorks and Arduino in class but have never had the chance to apply them projects outside of school. Along the way, we encountered many different challenges that forced use to explore new methods of overcoming these obstacles resulting in a greater cohesiveness between our team members and allowing us to explore different aspects of the tools we used. As we tried to accomplish new tasks, we were forced to learn new methods of coding as well as different methodologies to design hardware on SolidWorks. Ultimately, we are most proud of our team's ability to overcome challenges we faced despite being constrained by a time limit of what we could accomplish. Each member of the team moved out of their comfort zones to learn and understand alternative solutions in developing our design.
What we learned
Through taking advantage of the workshops offered by UtraHacks, we were able to learn more about 3D printing and laser cutting. Having not 3D printed prior to today, it was definitely an surreal experience seeing how the designs we created on SolidWorks transform into a physical entity that was an integral aspect of our design. For the firmware team, we learned the fundamental concepts of input/output with the Arduino circuit board. As well in testing various designs, we learned about how transistors work.
What's next for InBrace
In the future, we hope to develop InBrace to also incorporate motor movements in the hand in addition to the arm. Due to the complexity of the motor movements present in the hand, we felt that it would not be feasible to pursue this task during a hackathon. Instead, we sought to prove that our concept was legitimate and that the same theory could be applied to additional body parts in the future. We plan on controlling the joints in the finger using a single motor and multiple fishing lines that run to each one of the fingers instead of using a single motor per joint. This will help reduce the bulk present in our chassis as well as making our overall design more minimalist and refined. We plan on continuing InBrace after Utrahacks has ended and we wanted thank Utrahacks and all its sponsors for organizing this event as providing us with the opportunity to create this project. As a team, we are extremely excited for what lies ahead for InBrace!