FTC student wins 2013 FIRST Future Innovator Award

06 Jun 2013 10:51 PM | Shari (Administrator)
The FIRST Future Innovator Award (FFIA), sponsored by the Abbott Fund, recognizes creativity in effectively solving a real-world problem through the invention of a unique solution beyond the requirements of the FIRST competition season.  This award directly links to the FIRST mission to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and to the FIRST vision to transform the culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated.
Editor's note: Parker Owen, a member of FTC Team 4260 and FRC Team 3469 (Spanish Inquisition), received this award.  Parker is a senior at the Alabama School of Math and Science, Mobile, AL.  The following is his account of how he developed an affordable prosthetic leg for third-world countries.

The Cycle-Leg's conception began when a friend asked if I would join him this summer on a mission trip to Honduras. He explained that each year, on average, they raise $10,000 in donations, which only supplies enough capital to buy components for four prosthetic legs. He knew I was heavily involved in FIRSTrobotics and asked if I could somehow find a way to make a prosthetic leg without all of the cost, while utilizing Honduras’ available resources. 

I returned to school remembering documentaries I had watched on various issues in current and developing third-world countries. In the background of all of these films, I noticed a common resource - bicycles. After a little research, I found that third-world countries have a lot of bicycles, which probably means that after a while, a lot of bicycle waste. I began my journey to find a way to make a functional prosthetic leg out of a single bicycle. 

After hours of starring at a bicycle diagram on-line, I mentally pieced together a functional prosthetic leg. 

A few weeks passed and I left school to go home for the weekend. I needed a bicycle to start my project. I went to the American Thrift Store and bought the simplest bicycle I could find for $20. I began disassembling the bicycle into its base components. At first, I thought I must have been putting it together all wrong, for the simple fact that it was going together so easily.  After a few hours, though, I had completed the first prototype. 

Next, I altered the foot design and added tread to the sole of the boot. Taking it a step further, I added muscles to assist movement of the ankle. From the scrap pile I saw a tire and realized that the inner tubes could act as a synthetic muscle for extension of the ankle. After seeing the success of the the ankle, I decided to do the same for the knee by stretching the inner tube over a fulcrum point made from a bolt. 

After all the mechanics were finished, I took my leg to a prosthesis company, Next Step Prosthetics & Orthotics in Alabaster, AL. I presented my bicycle leg to Adam B. Williams CP, LP, an expert in the field. He was so surprised by its functionality, as well as its weight, and explained that it has all of the functionality of a $15,000 - $20,000 modern prosthetic. He suggested a boot to receive the leg, so I began construction and mounted a boot out of the original tires of the bicycle. 

There is a need for prosthetic legs in current and developing third-world countries. The problem is cost and availability of resources. I did not invent a new product.  What I did was find a way to make an existing product, at a low cost, accessible to people all over the world. 

The cost of a working prosthetic leg can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Not a reality for those with little money and little to no health care. The prosthetics that are available to men, women and children in third world countries are quite primitive, if any at all. Options may not meet the functional needs for active individuals and certainly do not include the muscle fibers and tendons needed for strenuous activity and comfortable locomotion. Another issue of these prosthetics is that they are non-adjustable. They can last for as little as six months after they have been fitted to the individual, due to muscle gain or loss, as well as growth. Until now, prosthetic solutions for the poor have been extremely primitive or non-existent. The Cycle-Leg is a life-changer for many in need.

Prosthetic legs and their mechanisms are an ever-evolving wonder of the world. They change lives. I am taking a readily available material, a bicycle, tearing it down and restructuring it into a functioning leg with muscles and tendons - the Cycle-Leg. This can be done anywhere in the world with very simple tools. The Cycle-Leg uses similar movements comparative to a knee and an ankle with the ability to adjust as an individual grows. The process of making the Cycle-Leg is simple and easy and can be taught to anyone in a 5-step process. The time it takes to make a Cycle-Leg is minimal while the parts needed are inexpensive and plentiful.

The Cycle-Leg is made from a single recycled bicycle, aside from three bolts, three nuts, and a few zip-ties. 
The Cycle-Leg has adjustable muscle fibers and tendons which are made from the bicycle's tire tubes. These become synthetic muscles which provide the resistance and force needed during strenuous activities. The synthetic muscles adjust with simple air pressure. 

The Cycle-Leg is completely adjustable for any size person. It is designed and built to incorporate growth as well as muscle gain and loss of the individual over the course of a lifetime. The Cycle-Leg can be adjusted for length of the fore leg as well as the thigh. The Boot is also adjustable which can be helpful for changes in muscle tone and growth. 

The Cycle-Leg is an extremely inexpensive, versatile, and adjustable solution to a huge problem around the world.  It provides an extremely inexpensive solution to problems facing those in need of a prosthesis in third-world countries and impoverished nations; places where the bicycle is a common-place item.

You can read more about Parker's work and see additional photos at http://blog.al.com/live/2013/02/alabama_student_makes_prosthet.html
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