Students work to design prosthetic hand for Trinidad teen
Trinidad Campus / October 1, 2019 / by Greg Boyce
Each summer Trinidad State brings high school students from the region to Trinidad for a six-week, immersive college experience as part of Upward Bound Math Science. These students are low income and first generation college hopefuls from Trinidad to the San Luis Valley and into New Mexico, all the way to Gallup. They stay in the residence halls, eat in the cafeteria and take classes designed to give them a future in a math or science field. Upward Bound Math Science is funded by a federal grant, one of several under the umbrella of TRiO.
This past summer UBMS Director David Dominguez decided to take on an unusual project, so innovative he has been asked to present a workshop about it at the 2019 regional ASPIRE conference in Colorado Springs, September 29 through October 2. Representatives from Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming are expected to be there. ASPIRE is a professional development organization for TRiO professionals. TRiO is a federal government program that provides assistance to low income, first generation young people designed to help them in excel in high school and college.
“They’ve asked me to do a three-hour workshop on how to integrate STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, and Math) into the Upward Bound TRiO programs,” said Dominguez. “It will be attended by academic coordinators, TRiO personnel from different colleges and universities from around the region.”
The project that has captured the imagination of ASPIRE members is building a prosthetic hand for a Trinidad teen who was born without hands.
Since high school, Dominguez has had an interest in prosthetics. “My first bachelor’s degree was in electronics engineering technology with a bio medical emphasis.” He planned to find an injured veteran for this project and then heard about 14-year-old Juan Zamora, a student at Trinidad Middle School. “He was born without a right hand and without the left arm just below the elbow,” said Dominguez. “We asked the family if he’d like to be involved in this kind of research learning environment.”
The prosthetic will slide over Juan’s arm and sensors will read signals sent from his brain to control movement of actuators, which will be the fingers in the prosthetic hand. The initial design work was done in June and July and will continue, according to Dominguez, for three years. “We want all of our gains to be made inside the classroom environment because we want the students to have ownership of it. If it was just the staff doing it, we could probably have put something together already, but we do want to make sure we’re not just giving the students the answers.”
“We know the ultimate goal we’re working towards, so it’s really about leading the students to that end. And having them take ownership of what it is they’re developing. So it’s a process of turning students into leaders. We’ve also created a student research internship, where three students who were here during the summer, all from the Gallup, New Mexico area, have applied for the research internship,” said Dominguez. Over the academic year, they’re going to work on the design a little more. We do have a design, so we kind of know where we want to go with it, and so it will be leading them to take ownership of the design and start making it even better. We’re designing for scalability, designing for maintainability and designing for ease of operation. The hand will have to be easy to put on, easy to charge and will have to grow as Juan grows.
While the design continues, Juan is working, too. With the help of Trinidad Physical Therapy and a machine called an electro muscular stimulation unit, Juan regularly practices by imagining he is moving his right pinky finger, index finger or thumb. At first any thought of movement gave the same result, a fist. Slowly he has made progress separating the commands. “And incidentally the last time we put him on the BCI (brain computer interface) which was about three weeks ago, his signals were very strong and we’re also seeing the isolation of his pinky and his index finger reaching toward the thumb. We now have three distinct signals from him – the overall fist, and then the pinky, index and thumb signal. So we’ve made a lot of progress very quickly with him, but we also have to understand…we have a lot of work left to do.”
The project is called ACE, Artifact Controlled Extremity. Dominguez notes, “When we get Juan fully activated it will be called JACE, Juan’s Artifact Controlled Extremity.”