Students at the University of Central Florida have developed a 3D printed device that willow allow people who have challenges getting around and are restricted to a wheelchair to control the chair with facial movement. The students run the non-profit organization known as Limbetless Solutions, which received notoriety last year when they developed and donated several 3d printed bionic arms to displaced Syrian children. The device functions by placing a small box with multiple electric components over the top of the joystick to a generic motorized wheelchair and electromyographic sensors are placed on the face, near the user’s forehead. Once in place, the sensors react to facial movements and send those signals to the joystick. Limbetless founder and CEO Albert Manero spoke about the group’s new device stating that “This was just an idea a year ago, and then some of our newest members took the idea and ran with it as their senior design project. Now we can make a difference for our veterans who have made sacrifices defending us, or people who have lost function due to car accidents. I couldn’t be more proud of our team and am so excited to be able to help a whole other group of people.”
While the 3D printed device requires a large amount of technical training to produce, it is quite intuitive to learn. Former U.S. Marine and power-lifting champion Charlie Merritt, who was disabled in a diving accident, was able to master the new technology in just minutes. The design is simple, tighten your right jaw and you move right, use your left and go left. Merritt commented on the experience stating that “It was pretty easy; this will give individuals with spinal-cord injuries another option, which is currently not available to be independent. I don’t know how to measure the impact of that. I guess you would say it’s priceless.” Merritt also noted the cheaper cost of this device, which stands at about $250-$300. Much cheaper than the five to seven thousand he paid for his current device. You can find the video conference here.