This past weekend I participated in ASBME’s Makeathon, an annual 48-hour hardware competition in which teams of four to five individuals collaborate to address a medical challenge.
At 6 PM on Friday, the twelve participating teams were briefed on the prompt that would be consuming their time and efforts for the next two days.
This year, teams were tasked with prototyping a 3D-printed prosthetic hand for adolescents that is inexpensive to build, easy to assemble, and enhances development and social integration with peers. The two biggest requirements were to devise an “extension” driven mechanism to compliment the already existing “flexion” driven mechanism and to provide grip feedback to the user.
For the next 24 hours, we ideated and designed using cardboard cutouts and computer-aided design (CAD). We found success by having individual brainstorm sessions and reconvening after some time to share and add onto one another’s ideas.
We thought about questions such as, how can we enable children to live a normal life free of social anxiety, while giving them a sense of belonging and independence? Playing sports (including throwing and catching a ball), grasping door handles, tying shoe laces, and eating with utensils are activities that require for gripping in a flexion and hyperextended motion. This is a mechanism that applies to everyday tasks in all aspects of a child’s life. We emphasized creating something that’s both user friendly and intuitive. We aimed to eliminate funky and awkward movements that kids may be forced to make because of limitations in design.
At the end of the first day, we presented our design to a panel of mentors consisting of graduate students who would be deciding the five teams that would move on to fabrication, an opportunity to go into a lab space and actually build the device. After much anticipation, we found out that we were selected to continue onwards. We received the mentors’ comments and made sure to address them as we moved forward in the competition.
For the next 24 hours, we 3D printed the various parts we would need, made appropriate cuts, and sanded pieces that would be used in our final product prototype. The Fabrication lab had all the tools we needed to construct our device. This was a very stressful period of time and on several occasions, we had to resort to our backup plan. As time wound down, we scrambled to put the finishing touches on our product and get ready for our presentation in front of a judging panel consisting of professors. While our device was by no means perfect, we were proud of the progress we had made in less than two days!
ASBME’s Makeathon is not only for biomedical engineers. Our team consisted of a mechanical engineer, a computer science major, and an international relations major (in addition to two biomedical engineers). This diversity provided us with a broad variety of perspectives, culminating in an organic synchronization of ideas and thoughts.
Throughout this competition, I learned the importance of being scrappy and resourceful, especially under strict time constraints. I thoroughly enjoyed communicating, understanding everyone’s individual strengths, and working together to form a cohesive and effective unit. Being able to realize the creation of a functioning product under immense pressure is a scenario that will surely await all of us after graduation. I feel much more prepared to tackle such a challenge after attaining some hands-on experience through this competition. It’s also incredible what 48 hours of collaboration can do to grow and foster the bond between a group of people. We entered as friends and this experience brought us even closer together!
We ended up winning second place, but most importantly, we left with a better understanding of how engineering concepts can be applied to solving real-world problems.