A bio-robotic arm created by two Black inventors looks like it’s straight out of a science-fiction movie, but it’s actually not from the future.
David Gathu and Moses Kinyua, inventors from Nairobi, Kenya, have created a bio-robotic prosthetic arm that could change the lives of disabled Kenyans and the future of prosthetics entirely.
Their newest invention doesn’t break a world record; it sets it. Most prosthetic technology is powered by a person’s muscles. Equipped with sensors to detect the flexing of appropriate muscles, the bionic limb will act accordingly. Gathu and Kinyua’s prosthetic works differently. Instead of listening for muscle signals, it listens for brain signals and is the first in the world to do so.
When the brain tells the prosthetic to do something, those signals are converted into an electric current by a NeuroNode biopotential headset receiver, a technology originally invented to assist individuals suffering from paralysis and speech loss. The electrical current is then redirected into the arm’s circuitry, giving the arm both mobility and direction.
The idea for the bio-robotic arm came to the inventors amid the pandemic when they began thinking of how to help their country deal with the devastating virus.
“When the virus hit our country, we decided to create a machine that could help us decontaminate surfaces. It can also be used in schools, restaurants, hospitals,” Kinyua explains, from his workshop in the city of Kikuyu, north of Nairobi.
Though Kenya’s response to the virus has been better than most, it’s easy for hospitals to get overwhelmed rather quickly and a bio-robotic arm can help speed up the disinfectant process, allowing the treating of patients to speed up simultaneously.
The sanitizing device within the arm, though still a prototype, oxidizes oxygen molecules to convert into ozone to be used as a disinfectant. Ozone has been proven to be highly effective in killing bacteria and inactivating viruses on surfaces and remains 50 times more effective and acts 3000 times faster than chlorine, which remains the most popular disinfectant.
Remarkably, the creation of this innovative device comes from humble beginnings. The bio- robotic arm was designed entirely from second-hand parts salvaged from any old, discarded electronics David Gathu and Moses Kinyua could find.
“At the moment, we use raw materials from other discarded appliances because we do not have neither the place nor the resources to obtain the necessary materials to mass-produce,” Kinyua remarks.
Though the two inventors don’t work in a state-of-the-art facility, the work they manage to do with salvaged material is indicative of how possible it is to change the lives of many without an expensive lab or tools.
Though the bio-robotic arm was initially created to help COVID-19 sanitization efforts, the young inventors’ technology can influence how prosthetics for the disabled are produced. The number of applications this technology could have is innumerable and can change how medical technology works in the future.