Illini Prosthetic Technologies continues worldwide expansion

Everyday students on campus wake up, slam the snooze button down with their palms, reach for the light switch and flick it with their fingertips, and grab their breakfast to go with a swipe of the hand. They carry their backpacks around their shoulders and extend their arms up to the bus railing for support on the way to class. The simple arm motions we take for granted are exactly what the Illini Prosthetics Technologies (IPT) team spends their time examining in their attempt to replicate them in prosthetic form.

Co-founders Adam Booher, Ehsan Noursalehi and Jonathan Naber began IPT in October 2008 as undergrads at the University and have since expanded their efforts. The organization looks to serve the 25 million amputees around the world, and more specifically, the 80 percent of those amputees that live in third-world countries.

The nonprofit group has teamed up with students on campus and organizations in the U.S. and abroad to make their dream of worldwide product distribution a plausible goal.

Naber entered their design for an affordable below-the-elbow prosthetic arm into the Lemelson-MIT Illinois competition and won the award along with a $30,000 prize in 2010.

“The Lemelson competition was a catalyst (for us), and it said that people believed in us, and people believed this could work,” Booher said.

The group was able to use the resources to fund their first trip abroad.

“With those resources we went to Guatemala that summer, and since then, we’ve known this is something that we want to make a reality, and we know we can do it,” he said.

There are currently two people in Guatemala who are using IPT’s model. Naber is currently stationed in Guatemala for the second time, and revisited both of the amputees last week in order to check out how the arm has been working in real life situations.

“We’re going to get some pictures and really detailed feedback from Jonathan soon and we’ll be able to evaluate that,” Booher said.

Naber is working in the field now, though Guatemala is not the only country they’re looking to use for research. Ehsan Noursalehi, vice president of IPT, visited India over winter break with his BADM class.

“I’m working really closely with students in the class to develop the next product for IPT,” Noursalehi said.

The team is looking at a new device that will be for people with amputations that are above the elbow. Noursalehi and the other members are considering sending devices over to clinics in India to avoid the expenses of traveling.

“Our real focus right now is to flesh out the below-the-elbow product, and we’re also looking to really grow our organization and involve more people,” Noursalehi said.

IPT is setting up an internship program over the summer where they will be able to utilize the skills of more students who are looking to get involved. Right now IPT is taking advantage of an engineering course that gives its students the opportunity to work with non profit services like themselves.

Some of the students in the class have taken the role of developing the public relations for IPT. They are looking to have runners in the upcoming marathon that will represent the organization and fund raise for their future trips and research.

“These projects that the students are working on, students can really take ownership of them and hopefully see a result from them,” Booher said.

Booher explained that their long term goals are to not only get a product out there, but also “to make refinements to the design to the point where it’s ready to distribute as the first viable product, and to start getting out there and really helping people.”

Noursalehi said their efforts are all about problem solving and being innovative in order to help people in unfortunate situations.

“The way I see it, we’re a social ‘think tank’ that’s working on products that empower people,” Noursalehi said.

The group looks ahead to the future and how the progress they’ve made recently will give them the opportunity to expand not only their group but the speed and quality of their production.

Booher explained that their goals are not to produce the easiest or cheapest solution, but to develop an arm that is quality and to distribute it to as many people as possible.

“Our vision is to have this all over the world,” Booher said.