For of those of you who aren’t aware of the magic of TED talks, they are a series of talks given throughout a variety of inspiring topics from religion to business to art and empowerment. Throughout the last few years, TEDx talks have been growing in popularity as small-scale conferences that have taken place all over the world. And this past Saturday I had the honor of attending the local TEDxLehighRiver event in Allentown and got the chance to show off some of my prototypes from my Lehigh Mountaintop research project.
Lehigh Mountaintop programs debuted last summer as an opportunity for students to work on whatever idea or business venture they wanted to pursue. It gives undergraduate students the opportunities to discover their passions and actually develop that idea that would have previously just sat in the back of their minds. Since starting as a bioengineer at Lehigh I’ve been extremely interested in rehabilitative devices like prosthetics and orthotics so when I found out that I could join a team a students developing 3D printed exoskeletons, I jumped at the opportunity.
I worked with a team of Lehigh students, Daniel Levy, Elena Ramirez, Jeff Peisner, and Sam He to develop a series of 3D printed exoskeletons. When most people hear the word “exoskeletons” they usually think of some kind of superheroes. While a lot of our devicess did have a bit of a superhero flair, they were all designed to assist patients who had lost muscle control during strokes or accidents. Dan, Elena, and Jeff focused on developing hand exoskeletons to assist stroke patients who were relearning fine motor skills such as the gross/grasp function of the hand. Meanwhile I was working on an exoskeleton that focused on strengthening the bicep of patients who had suffered acute bicep injuries after some sort of trauma or accident. We decided to focus on 3D printing as a means of making these devices because it allowed for full customization for devices to suit a wide range of patient sizes and needs. 3D printing also has the added benefit of being a technology that someone could make in their homes or at the nearest printing facility – by open sourcing our technology on Thingiverse we are able to bring health care options directly to occupational therapists and patients all around the world. (Shameless plug: check out our Thingiverse designs here, here, here, and here!)
So since Elena and Jeff have already graduated, Dan and I headed out to Allentown to display our exoskeletons in Innovation Alley, a hallway dedicated entirely to cool student projects, while people funneled in to listen to the talks. Some really cool people stopped by the booth to ask us questions and ask if we had any plans for expanding our device line. It was great to get to hear people get excited about 3D printing technology and ask me genuine questions about my device.
The theme of the day was”Why not?” and I had the pleasure to hear from six great speakers about how we can speak to whales through music, why we should increase spatial learning skills for kids, how we should remain skeptics, among other truly intriguing topics. We shouldn’t be intimidated by large thoughts or big plans and instead we should focus on embracing and exploring them – which is a big takeaway from what would have been a very average Saturday otherwise.