ABU DHABI // A robot arm developed to help stroke patients regain movement may be sent to war zones to protect the lives of bomb disposal crews.
Students from UAE University designed the 3D-printed device to help rehabilitation after motion loss and are looking at a wider range of uses.
“The idea started with a rehabilitation robot for people who had a stroke and lost their motion,” said Dr Fady Al Najjar, assistant professor at the university’s college of IT and visiting researcher at the Brain Science Institute in Japan.
“You really need time to completely recover and going to hospital and finding an appointment will give you rehabilitation twice a week at most, which isn’t enough. So you have to rehabilitate yourself at home.”
The process involves the patient wearing the prosthetic on their healthy arm to measure movement, before being attached to their damaged arm.
“The basic (model) is for heavier tasks and can carry up to 2 kgs compared to half a kilo with the other one,” Dr Al Najjar said.
But the team have found many uses for the device, whose development is part-funded by the Armed Forces.
The arm could also be used by police to remotely check suspicious bags and to defuse and dispose of bombs.
“You can send a robot to a bag as far as 100 metres and you have full control with a camera,” Dr Al Najjar said.
“It’s 3D-printed so it’s not as costly as a human life.”
The basic arm costs about Dh10,000 and has a built-in camera.
Dr Al Najjar is in talks with Abu Dhabi Police to sponsor and use it in operations.
“They are really interested because it’s real-time motion and you don’t need someone to train it,” Dr Al Najjar said.
“We will build it on a track, which is kind of a mini tank, and attach a full upper body robot inside it.
“If they like the prototype, we’ll make it stronger to lift heavier weights and we can do it in two to three months if we have the full budget of about US$25,000, excluding the track.”
Al Ain Hospital, which he said has also expressed interest in the project, has ordered customised arms.
Hajar Alshehhi, a 21-year-old computer science student who worked on the project, she said has always been interested in bionics.
“When I started computer science, I really enjoyed it more than anything so I just want to build other things that involve artificial intelligence and computer science programming,” she said.
“We also think about it as dealing with bombs. So, instead of sending a man to the field we could just send this robot so injury to humans will beminimalised.
“It’s something that’s needed and it made me want to be build more in the future.
“I just love it and I want to do anything in this field because it can really improve people’s lives, from medical and educational to police.”
Her classmate, Nouf Alsaedi, said the 3D printing aspect of the project fascinated her.
“It gives you the freedom to make anything you want, so anything you dream of, you can apply it,” said the 20-year-old student in computer science.
“AI is the future, it’s part of the vision of the UAE and we want to go further,” she said.