Student constructs exoskeleton for 100 euro

Biomedical engineering student Sander Hekkelman designed an exoskeleton for people with limited use of their hands. Now they can make their own exoskeleton at home.
By Mella Fuchs / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The exoskeleton that biomedical engineering student Sander Hekkelman developed is meant to aid people recovering from a stroke. Sander constructed the device for his honours master programme High Tech Systems and Materials. His assignment was to make something for the University Museum exhibition: Beyond the Lab, which focuses on DIY science.

So far, the prototype only has one working finger, but Sander says he can make the other fingers work as well. There is a sensor embedded in the fingertip which measures the amount of force the finger is exerting. Whenever this force exceeds a certain limit, the device assumes the patient wants to exert more and tells the motor embedded in the glove to provide more force.

Making the exoskeleton requires a 3D printer, but since not everyone has access to one, Sander also came up with other ways to construct the device. He put it together using two old gloves and pieces of cardboard, but he says wood or hard pieces of foam will do just as well. All materials are readily available.

100 euro

The motor, a computer unit, and the sensor have to be bought separately, but Sander wants to put the blueprints, the computer code (Arduino), and the instructions online for free. The total cost of this device is approximately 100 euro.

‘I still need to fine-tune the Arduino code and I’m sad I haven’t been able to make all the fingers in the exoskeleton work,’ he says.

The building and assembly process, combined with his busy schedule, was frustrating at times. ‘I’d be working on something for a long time, thinking it would finally work and then it would crap out on me,’ Sander says.

In those cases, all he could do was take a look, re-evaluate and keep tinkering until it finally works. ‘That whole process is exactly what I love about designing. Starting with the first design, finding the little flaws, making adjustments, and finally succeeding.’

The project serves as an example of how people can make big things with minimal resources. DIY designers, such as Sander, often use cheap sensors and freely exchange information on online platforms.

Seven similar inventions can be seen at the University Museum in Groningen until 14 April.


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