Students Engineer the “Farm Arm” Prosthetic
Mark Atwater posted on March 13, 2015 |

Even with the rapid advancements in prosthetics and modern technology available, the amputation of a limb has deep and lasting impacts. Depending on the person and their occupation, it can be career-ending. That is why Northeastern University Mechanical Engineering students wanted to focus on an underserved population that knows these hardships.

Farm accidents are all too often serious. According to a Northeastern University News article, which cites the Farm Injury Resource Center, 11% of farm accidents result in an amputation and are two and a half times more likely to end in an amputation than other accidents. That is what inspired an undergraduate senior design team to innovate a way to reduce the likelihood of these occurrences preventing the patients from returning to work.

The trouble is that operation of equipment used in farming requires high dexterity. The complex systems of levers are often difficult to grasp with conventional arm and hand prosthetics and require a superior level of durability. As described in the Technical Report on the farm arm website, “This project aimed to design a solution that enabled an agricultural worker to complete a specific task while increasing worker safety and extending device lifetime over commercially available prosthetics.”

The five mechanical engineering students worked on making a prosthetic with interchangeable adapters and a rugged structure which could be used to operate the hydraulic levers, steering wheel and other control mechanisms. Their design, referred to as the “farm arm,” incorporates and aluminum body, titanium end-piece and 3-D printed adapters.

The students worked with industry experts in prosthetics and farming with disabilities, and they field tested their device with the help of a farmer in Maine who had lost part of his arm. It wasn’t just the interaction during the development that was important. The students cite their participation in co-op placements prior to beginning the work as being instrumental in delivering on the project.

The team is currently working on assessing further manufacturing and design options for the patent-pending farm arm and they are taking pre-orders on their website.

The student team includes: Andrew Waite, Jacob Cohen, Carly Gajewski, Jonathan Leydon, and Daniel Walsh.

The video below, from the website, explains more about the project.

Image: thefarmarm.org

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