Maker Story: Aadeel Akhtar
January 17, 2019
There are 11.4 million people with hand amputations worldwide. 80 percent are in developing nations. Less than 3 percent have access to adequate, affordable prosthetic devices.
These realities motivated Aadeel Akhtar to develop a bionic hand while he was working on his PhD in Neuroscience and MS in Electrical & Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he held an NIH MD/PhD Fellowship. Traditional prosthetics are very expensive, fragile, slow, and heavy. Additionally, they limit the sensory feedback of users, eliminating the precision of the hand and the overall human experience of touch. With Aadeel’s engineering and neuroscience background, he found a way to overcome these limitations.
Using 3D printing, Aadeel’s bionic hand is created using silicone and urethane molding and is reinforced with carbon fiber fabric to develop a durable, more cost effective, and more lifelike prosthetic.
The materials used in the bionic hand give it a skin-like texture, which makes the it more compliant and flexible like our own hands, increasing its resistance to impact.
Additionally, Aadeel’s bionic hand uses a machine learning algorithm to teach the hand different motions, such as pinching or creating a fist. It can take minutes from the time the bionic hand is placed on a person’s limb for the hand to learn these tasks. It also gives sensation back to someone who has lost their hand. This was developed through a control algorithm that regulates the current so that, even while missing their hand, users can feel a steady sensation, restoring to a degree their sense of touch and improving their quality of life. This algorithm is not hindered when the electrodes begins to peel off, or when the user begins to sweat.
Aadeel worked with the Bretl Research Group at Illinois and out of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Open Lab, which played a critical role in their early success. Access to this lab provided the space, 3D printers, electronics equipment, and a technically-gifted community of students to launch the early prototypes of the bionic hand.
Now, Aadeel and his team have launched PSYONIC, a company whose mission is to develop advanced prostheses that are affordable for everyone worldwide. PSYONIC seeks to make the bionic hand easily reimbursed by insurance companies. Traditional prosthetics cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000. The materials used by PSYONIC to create this bionic hand enables them to create the hand at a fraction of this cost, and will be covered by insurance companies.
Aadeel draws motivation for the bionic hand from an experience from when he was just seven years old. On a trip to Pakistan, he met a girl his age who had lost a limb, and he learned first-hand an outcome from a lack of health care, safety and financial resources. Now, Aadeel and the team at PSYONIC draw on this experience to work towards their goal: to make this hand available to anyone in the United States and developing nations.