WPI Student Team Captures First Place at Cornell Cup

Four-person team wins $10,000 prize for development of smart robotic prosthetic hand; team aims for improved functionality at price point accessible for greater number of amputees
June 02, 2014

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A team of four undergraduates from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) captured first-place honors at the Third Annual Cornell Cup USA for the development of a smart robotic prosthetic hand. The event was held recenty at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

The WPI team, recent undergraduates Sean Casley, Deniz Ozgoren, Thanacha Choopojcharoen, and Adam Jardim, was selected from an initial field of about 100 entrants, which was whittled down to less than three dozen finalists. They received the $10,000 grand prize for the "IrisHand," a semiautonomous robotic prosthesis capable of using an advanced vision system to determine the most appropriate finger positions for grasping an object. The team developed the hand as part of their senior capstone project.

Unlike similar prosthetic hands that are limited to 24 different preloaded grips, the IrisHand allows for more grips while simultaneously simplifying the user input to just two commands: open and close. "Our prosthetic hand does a lot of what your subconscious would do with your natural hand," explained Casley, of Guilford, Conn. "If you’re reaching for a cup or an object, you don’t have to actively think about where you need to position your fingers. We wanted to mimic this behavior."

A provisional patent on the concept was filed last month through WPI’s Office of Intellectual Property and Innovation.

Casley said the development cost for the prosthetic hand was $1,700 and that the team is hoping to keep the sales price under $20,000 to make it accessible to a larger population of amputees. The team said the current price point for a prosthetic hand ranges from $30,000 to $100,000. "Our main selling point is that we offer increased functionality with a simpler user interface at a lower cost," Casley said.

The team was advised by Taşkin Padir, assistant professor of robotics engineering, and Cagdas Onal, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. "This accomplishment is a testament to the effectiveness of WPI's projects program," said Padir. "Equipped with multidisciplinary engineering skills, our students continue to demonstrate their innovative ideas through design competitions such as the Cornell Cup."

Onal noted that this work can have considerable scientific impact and lead to additional research opportunities. "Enabling prosthetic hands that intelligently provide grasp assistance is transformative, paving the way toward new frontiers in intimate human-robot collaboration," he noted. "We are very interested to study functional assistance in what comes after a grasp."

This is not the first attempt to build a low-cost prosthetic hand at WPI. Two years ago, Paul Ventimiglia '12 produced a complete mechanical design of a standalone prosthetic hand as part of his senior capstone project. In his project report, he noted that the functional prototype he developed could help future projects. "That prototype could serve as a platform for future [senior projects] and academic research both at WPI and other institutions," he wrote.

Each of the current team members, who graduated last month with bachelor's degrees in robotics engineering, brought specific expertise to the project. Casley focused on mechanical design; Jardim handled software development; Ozgoren was the lead for electrical engineering and embedded programming; and Choopojcharoen developed the control system.

Casley said there are currently several other prosthetics on the market, but the team viewed them as somewhat limiting to users. "We took what we learned during our time as robotics engineering undergraduates and improved upon those concepts," he said.

This year's competition featured 34 finalists from more than a dozen institutions throughout the country demonstrating creations ranging from an advanced GPS navigation systems to an embedded medication distribution system.

The Cornell Cup USA, presented by Intel, is a college-level embedded design competition created to empower student teams to become the inventors of the newest innovative applications of embedded technology. The two-day, expo-style event displayed student teams’ creations that were measured by a panel of judges. In addition to the $10,000 grand prize, second-place ($5,000) and third-place ($2,500) prizes were awarded.

Two other WPI teams were also finalists; one developed a personal assistance robot known as "PARbot" and the other created a sensitive calligraphy robot. The PARbot team, also advised by Padir, was composed of recent graduates Kevin Burns, Olivia Hugal, Nikhil Godani, Julien Van Wambeke-Long, and Jeffrey Orszulak. The calligraphy robot, advised by Eduardo Torres-Jara, assistant professor of computer science and robotics engineering, was led by WPI graduate Carly Buchanan.

Other participating colleges in the finals included Duke University, Purdue University, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and University of Massachusetts Amherst, and University of Massachusetts Lowell.