The Institute - March 2022 - 65

His research for his doctorate
focused on developing what eventually
became the Ability Hand.
In 2014 he and another graduate
student, Mary Nguyen, partnered
with the Range of Motion Project, a
nonprofit that provides prosthetic
devices to people around the world
who can't afford them. Akhtar and
Nguyen flew to Quito, Ecuador, to test
their product on Juan Suquillo, who
lost his left hand in 1979.
Using the prototype, Suquillo was
able to pinch together his thumb
and index finger for the first time in
35 years. He reported that he felt as
though a part of him had come back
thanks to the prosthesis. That feedback
inspired Akhtar to found Psyonic when
he returned from his trip.
To get some advice about how
to run the company and possibly
win some money, he entered the
Cozad New Venture Challenge at the
University of Illinois. The competition
provides mentoring to teams, as well as
workshops on topics such as pitching
skills and customer development.
Psyonic placed first and received
a US $10,000 prize. Since then,
Psyonic has received funding from
the University of Illinois Technology
Entrepreneur Center, the iVenture
Accelerator, and the U.S. National
Science Foundation.
The startup has 23 employees
including engineers, public health
experts, social workers, and doctors.
Developing the Ability Hand
Psyonic's artificial hand weighs
500 grams, around the weight of an
average adult hand. Most prosthetic
hands weigh about 20 percent more,
Akhtar says. The Ability Hand contains
six motors housed in a carbon fiber
casing. It has silicone fingers, a battery
pack, and muscle sensors that are
placed over the patient's residual limb.
If the patient has an amputation
below the elbow, for example, two
muscle sensors would be placed
over the intact forearm muscle. The
patient could then use those sensors to
control the hand's movement and grip.
The Ability Hand is connected
by Bluetooth to a smartphone app,
which provides users another way
The startup's founder, Aadeel Akhtar, was inspired to develop artificial
limbs during a trip to Pakistan when he was 7 years old.
to configure and control the hand's
movements. The hand's software is
automatically updated through the
app. Its battery recharges in an hour,
the company says.
While talking with patients who
used prosthetic hands, Akhtar says, he
learned they had issues such as a lack
of sensation and frequent breakage.
To give patients a sense of touch,
the Ability Hand contains pressure
sensors on the index finger, pinky, and
thumb. When patients touch an item,
they will feel vibrations on their skin
that mimic the sensation of touch.
The prosthesis uses those vibrations
to alert users when they touch an
object as well as indicate how hard
they have grabbed it and when they
have let go.
The reason most prosthetic limbs
break, Akhtar says, is because they are
made of rigid materials such as plastic,
wood, or metal, which can't bend
when they hit a hard surface. Psyonic
uses rubber and silicone to make the
fingers, which are flexible and can
withstand a great deal of force, he says.
" Everything we do has the patient
in mind, " Akhtar says. " We want to
improve the quality of life for people
with limb differences as much as
possible. Seeing the effect the Ability
Hand has already had on people in
such a short time span motivates us
to keep going. "
Psyonic and its partners are
researching how to improve the
artificial hand. Akhtar says some of the
partners, including the Ryan AbilityLab
in Chicago and the University of
Pittsburgh, are developing brain and
spinal-cord implants that could help
patients control the prosthesis.
Positive feedback
Akhtar joined IEEE in 2010 when he
was a doctoral student.
IEEE provides a great " ecosystem, "
he says, on prosthetic limbs and
robotics, and " it's amazing to be part
of that community. "
He adds that having access to
IEEE's community of scholars and
professionals, some of whom are
pioneers in the field, has helped the
company gain important feedback on
how it can improve the hand, as well
as help in the development of legs in
the future.

The Institute - March 2022

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