CHAMPAIGN — A University of Illinois student-led effort to develop a low-cost prosthetic arm for people in developing countries has expanded to different parts of the world.
"We're growing into a more global organization," said IPT President Adam Booher, outlining the group's progress to an audience of 65 at the UI Research Park this week.
Students affiliated with IPT — originally known as Illini Prosthetic Technologies — have made two trips to Guatemala, where they tested prototypes of prosthetic arms on patients.
Recently, IPT Vice President Ehsan Noursalehi was part of a student group that traveled to India for two weeks, visiting clinics and villages and building contacts there for use of the arms.
In January, former IPT President Jonathan Naber moved to Guatemala, with plans to stay there for a year and a half. He will serve as IPT's field director, directing operations abroad and arranging for long-term validation of the arms with amputees in the field.
IPT was founded in 2008 and registered as a not-for-profit organization in 2010.
Booher, a recent UI graduate, now handles day-to-day administration of IPT's office in the EnterpriseWorks building. Noursalehi is continuing studies at the UI, doing graduate work in industrial design.
IPT seeks to help some of the 25 million amputees around the world, 80 percent of whom are in developing countries.
The problem is, much of the technology for prosthetic arms was designed for people in developed countries and is ill-suited for other places.
Booher said IPT set out to design an arm that was highly functional and easily reproducible.
The ideal arm would need only limited maintenance, and people who do the fittings would need only limited training, he said.
IPT participants came up with many different designs and prototypes and refined them to come up with Open Socket technology.
Once the ideas are validated, the group aims to "push the technology out and get it to the people who need it," Noursalehi said. It's hoped that existing aid organizations will help with distribution.
Booher said the latest version of the prosthetic arm costs "about $90 for us to produce." But that doesn't include the price of the commercially supplied hook, which typically costs $400.
It also doesn't cover the cost of labor since group members provided labor for free, he said.
Booher was asked by an audience member whether the group could use donations of commercial equipment.
"We're definitely in need of better tools and technology," he said, noting the group has been using a commercial Singer sewing machine "from the 1920s" that his aunt donated to the cause.
The group has been working with several classes at the UI, but could still use extra manpower as well as people who can provide "connections," Booher said.
More information about IPT is available at http://www.supportipt.org .