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Rose-Hulman Students Give Clinton Boy Robotic Arm

May 9, 2011

It  took the Rose-Hulman team of senior biomedical engineering students nine months of work before they could deliver the robotic arm to young Michael Ammerman.  Sara Telezyn, E.J. Oruche and Clay Britton said it wasn't easy and was often frustrating, but they saw the project through and they are now able to donate a fully functioning robotic arm to Michael and his family.

In addition to the demonstration pictured here, Michael was able to pick up tiny Goldfish crackers with the pincer-like tip of his robotic arm.


Michael Ammerman tests his new robotic arm.

On either side of him arem the senior Rose-Hulman students who designed and developed it.

Biomedical Engineering Seniors Make a Difference
by Providing a Helping Hand to Kindergartener

"It's cool, it goes like zhhh zhhh zhhh," kindergartener Michael Ammerman demonstrates with his left arm, his big, brown eyes twinkling with excitement. 

Michael could easily be talking about a toy, but he's not.  Instead, the six year old is imitating the movements and sounds of the new prosthetic arm which was specially designed for him by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology senior biomedical engineering students Sara Telezyn, EJ Oruche and Clay Britton.

Michael was born with a condition known as bilateral radial and ulnar hypoplasia, leaving him with no forearms and only two tiny fingers on each hand.  The students' project, supervised by professors Kay C Dee, Glen Livesay and Renee Rogge, involved creating a prosthetic limb that would work with the child's fully functional fingers.  The resulting device extends Michael's reach, and allows him greater independence, while being fun and simple to operate.

"He's very excited," says Michael's mother, Bobbi Ammerman.  "He says, 'Mommy I look like a robot with this new arm! Can I keep it?'"

That statement brings a smile to Oruche's face.  "We wanted it to be fun for him," he says, explaining that the fun factor was one reason the joystick was incorporated into the design.  Michael uses the joystick to control the device.  Oruche, Telezyn and Britton traveled to Michael's hometown of Clinton, Ind. every Wednesday.  They began by observing Michael in the kindergarten class before taking measurements and documenting his level of mobility.  As the development of the prosthetic device progressed, the team used their time with Michael to make adjustments to the custom-made device.

"Michael's case is so unique," Telezyn notes, adding that his condition is so rare that even a specialist they consulted at Riley Children's Hospital had never heard of it.  She adds that the size constraint was one of the biggest challenges the team faced on the project. 

Oruche added that as the electronics specialist on the team, his biggest challenge was making the device operate on battery power.  "It was okay until I got the whole thing to work with a battery," he says, citing trial and error, along with the professors' advice, as tools he used to overcome the challenge.

"I learned a lot about biomedical design, project management and manufacturing-skills that will undoubtedly help me as I enter the industry as a biomedical engineer," Telzyn says.  "But I also learned that the hard work you put into a project can really have an impact on someone's life."

Both Telezyn and Oruche say they looked forward to their weekly visits with Michael, and that one of the best parts of the experience was working with a local student to make a difference in his young life.

"This is the culmination of what we went to school for," Oruche comments. 

Telezyn adds, "It's really great to see where all your hard work is going."

Details in the Trib-Star 
See more on the Huffington Post