High School Student Hopes to Give Amputees a “Helping Hand”

By Lucy Hirschfeld

It all started in September when junior Karla Majdancic wanted to lead a science fair at Elisabeth Irwin High School, something never done before. As she scrolled through pages and pages of Google Science Fair videos, she thought about what she would personally do if the school were to have a science fair. She watched several videos searching for inspiration, until one video in particular caught her attention. Gael Langevin, a scientist and creator of a 3D printed robot, had created a 3D-printed, mind-controlled arm. Karla had experience using the school’s 3D printer, but this was way more complex. A definite challenge.

Majdancic, a 16-year-old junior at Elisabeth Irwin High School, decided to take on the challenge of constructing a 3D-printed robotic arm. She would have to think about the materials and budget, and because it is an honor’s projects, an independent study that usually lasts for a trimester, how long it would take to complete the robot.

Sarvjit Singh Moonga, one of Majdancic’s advisors, said that he was overjoyed when Majdancic approached him with the project idea. Even though he has worked with students on challenging projects such as this one in the past, he said that he wouldn’t be able to do the project without the help of a specialist in this particular area. This project would be a learning experience for both student and teacher. “[I am there to] guide her and support her,” Moonga said. “Otherwise Karla has been really motivated to do the work on her own.”

Preethi Thomas McKnight, another one of Karla’s advisors on the project, encouraged her to jump right in. “Hurry up and start,” McKnight said the first time Majdancic brought up the project. McKnight had helped students build robots and movable arms before, but never a voice controlled arm like the one Majdancic wanted to build.

Majdancic would only have a little over four months to build the arm and get the sensors working. She had to overcome engineering obstacles to make the movements of the hand seem natural.  “Each of the fingers is controlled by a fishing wire that loops through the back channels running up to the tips of the fingers like a pulley system,” Majdancic said. “The motor turns the fishing wire causing it to bend.”  Sensors are attached to the hand and receive certain commands, such as “Point” or “Pick up,” and the hand performs the action. Majdancic used Gael Langevin’s Inmoov project, the first open-source 3D-printed, life-size robot, as a blueprint in order to design her own project. The materials she would need included the use of the school’s 3D printer, motors, screws, fishing wire, voice controlled chip, arduino chip, breadboard, and wires.

If Majdancic can make the hand work, she would like to give it to an amputee. The price of a prosthetic arm can range from $3,000 to $30,000. The goal of an amputee is to function as close to normal as possible, but many people can’t afford treatment and rehabilitation because of how expensive it is. If the total cost for Majdancic to build the arm came to a total of approximately $120, the price of prosthetics could decrease, being more affordable for more people.

Majdancic has just finished assembling the framework of the hand and is now working closely with her third advisor, Kelly O’Shea who is helping her with wiring the arm and working with the voice controlled chip. “The arm will function by winter, however not with the voice controlled chip,” Majdancic said.  “The arm would only be given to an amputee if it was definitely determined that it would function as it is supposed to 100% of the time.” Majdancic and O’Shea are expecting the arm to be completed in time for the NYCSEF (New York City Science and Engineering Fair).

LREI pushes its students to further explore subjects that they are passionate about and creates many opportunities to share these interests with others. Students can run an assembly in front of the whole school, making other students aware of a particular topic important to them;. They can run an X-block, a student-led 6th period class, where they can teach their peers about a particular topic or issue;. and, as in Majdancic’s case, students can plan honors projects, extracurricular undertakings on interests that they want to explore even further, getting one or more teachers to advise them.

“The benefits of doing an honors project are many and varied,” said High School Principal Micah Dov Gottlieb. “It lets a student reflect their interests and efforts on their transcript and distinguish themselves as an individual who takes on challenges.”

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