Mohamed Ali ’22 created a robotic prosthetic hand in the College's Maker Space.
When Mohamed Ali ’22 became a student worker in the Maker Arts Space, the first-year got a simple assignment from Maker Arts Technician and Coordinator Kent Watson: Follow your curiosity.
“With all my student workers, I have them set a goal at the start of the semester,” says Watson. “The idea is that they learn what they want to learn, and along the way they become specialized in an aspect of the Maker Space.” For Ali, his goal would be to build a robotic prosthetic hand.
The project was actually something he’d first begun working on with two friends in high school. “I read a lot about how amputation can impede a person and prevent him from moving on with his life,” says Ali, who is from Cairo, Egypt. Another thing he learned: The cost of efficient artificial limbs can be prohibitively high, mostly because of the materials they are made of. “So, we started working on research on what materials are best to use and how we could potentially cut down the price,” he says. “The hand I made [in the Maker Space] was meant to illustrate how prosthetics work and what inputs and outputs they take.”
While Ali wrote his own code, he used an open source design for the robotic hand that he found on Thingiverse. “That’s an open source platform where anyone can post, download, and, usually, modify 3D designs,” says Ali, who used the 3D printer in the Maker Space to print the hand and electronic enclosure. “Since I’m a prospective computer science major and I’m still undecided whether to minor in visual studies or math, doing this project was really inspiring for me because it introduced me more to the world of micro-controllers and how technology works.” (In fact, he learned enough to conduct a Maker Arts Space workshop in March on microcontrollers like the Arduino.)
“I made sure he was trained on the 3D printer and provided what knowledge I could to guide him in the direction he chose,” says Watson. “That said, much of what Mohamed did was self-guided. I can’t wait to see what he does next.”