Student-Built Reaching Assist Device for 7-Year-Old Wins RESNA Award

A custom-built reaching assist device developed and built by a team of students at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering won an award at the design competition of the Rehabilitation and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) in Atlanta.

The students created the device -- called “BRAD” for Biomimetic Reaching Assist Device -- for a 7-year-old boy with TAR syndrome. The condition is characterized by skeletal abnormalities including the absence of portions of both arms.

The student group included Rahul Kak, from Washington, D.C., Billy Hwang, from Potomac, Md., and Brian Yeh, from Edison, N.J.

They built the device as part of the design course BME 260: Devices for People with Disabilities taught in the fall semester by biomedical engineering professor Larry Bohs. Hwang and Kak presented their design at RESNA’s annual conference, leading to their selection as winners.

The team chose to build the reaching device among several possible ideas that emerged out of collaborations between the Pratt School and individual community members and organizations, such as Durham Public Schools, Bohs said.

“This project was our first choice because it had perhaps the broadest applications,” Kak said. “It could be made for anybody who needs help reaching, those in a wheelchair, for example. It also had huge potential to improve client independence – a big life impact.”

After spending time in the boy’s home and elementary school, the students built the reaching device onto a traditional snare drum carrier, which could easily be supported by the torso. The device includes a retractable arm with the capability for physical manipulation of items.

“The project lets the boy, who has very short arms, independently reach objects he couldn’t otherwise, such as the upper kitchen cabinets,” Bohs said.

The reaching device project marked the fifth built by BME 260 students for this boy. Earlier devices built for him include a shoulder-steered tricycle, a rotational workstation, a custom scooter, and an adapted swing.

RESNA’s mission is to improve the potential of people with disabilities to achieve their goals through the use of technology by promoting research, development, education, advocacy and provision of technology; and by supporting the people engaged in these activities, according to their web site. The RESNA Student Design Competition is designed to bring together the future developers of assistive technology with current leaders of the industry today.