University’s prosthetic researchers transition to a startup company

By Jane Lee

In Iraq in October 2005, Garrett Anderson, veteran and Champaign-Urbana local, lost his arm, jaw and suffered traumatic brain injuries due to a bomb explosion. He has been dealing with prosthetics for ten years.

A visit to a new PSYONIC office could change Anderson’s experience with prosthetics all together.

After developing a prosthetic hand last fall, University researchers have begun to commercialize their device by developing a startup company called PSYONIC. Last year, a group of University students hoped to install sensory feedback into their 3D printed prosthetic hand prototype. Months later, they competed and were awarded first place in the Cozad New Venture Competition in spring. Now, they are propelling their hopes into reality as a startup company called PSYONIC.

“PSYONIC is a combination of psychology and neuroscience because we do psychology and neuroscience research and we combine it with bionics so that’s where PSYONICs comes from,” said Aadeel Akhtar, co-founder of PSYONIC and doctoral student in neuroscience.

Patrick Slade, also a co-founder of PSYONIC and senior in engineering, said it has been a big change in the state of business in just one year.

Sensory feedback has been added to the 3D prosthetic hand since the Cozad competition as well, something Akhtar and Slade had been planning since last fall. This installment is one of the major differences between PSYONIC’s prosthesis and others out there.

Akhtar said low-cost prosthetic hands mostly just open and close with muscle control, but using pattern recognition, PSYONIC does much more.

Creation of robust model

Slade will be leading a senior design team during the fall semester through the mechanical engineering program. He said the team will consist of four students who will be responsible for developing a robust version of the prosthetic hand.

“They’re a bunch of good guys and they are really interested in the prosthetics division and trying to come up with new technology to help out individuals with disabilities, which is exciting,” Anderson said.

Akhtar said Anderson was the first person with an amputation to come and visit their lab.

“Garrett is super amazing and he’s been great to work with so far, so I’m really looking forward to working with him,” Akhtar said.

While the 3D-printed hands are useful for prototyping and accessible to people, Slade said robustness is still one of the biggest concerns for prosthetists.

“We are looking to design something that can both be injection molded, using rubbers and plastics, and make something that can be mass produced or scaled up easily to actually be sold commercially,” he said.

Akhtar said the newly designed, more robust hand, will be PSYONIC’s first product.

“That won’t be 3D-printed, but it will use other manufacturing techniques so that the hand is a lot stronger,” Akhtar said.

Mass production and commercialization

PSYONIC is looking to officially sell the hands by next summer.

“Next year we hope to really focus on the startup,” Akhtar said. “We’re hoping to really get the business side of things aligned and also to start shipping them out too.”

Slade said PSYONIC would like to get the prosthesis to actual patients who purchased them, or work with groups like the Range Of Motion project and travel down to places like Ecuador and other developing countries.

Also according to Slade, PSYONIC is working to commercialize the prosthetic hand primarily in the United States market because it is easier to get to the patients. In other countries, it is difficult to get through the laws associated with importing products, as well as accommodating countries’ medical requirements when it comes to approving certain devices.

However, the main goal for the company is to reach out to patients beyond the United States.

“We’d really like to get the hand to patients in developing nations, which is the idea we are developing it for,” Slade said.

With all the upgraded motors and materials, Akhtar said the company is looking to keep the cost for the hand below $1,000. He said other prosthetics out there usually cost around $30,000 to $40,000 and most insurances will not provide coverage for the entire cost.

“Insurance in the United States covers up to $3,000, so that’s what we would sell it for so that when patients need one, it would be of no cost to them because insurance would completely reimburse it,” Akhtar said.

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