GripStrong: An affordable gripping device for quadriplegic patients

Team update, Global Product Development | By Samantha Yang for team GripStrong: Prakhar Agarwal, Samantha Yang, Lara Zlokapa

Every year, the US sees 100,000 new cases of Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, a disability typically caused by a spinal injury resulting in lower limb and hand paralysis. It is usually accompanied by tetraparesis, muscle weakness that affects all four limbs. Quadriplegic patients also use wheelchairs, restricting their ability to reach objects, and most have reduced control over wrist movement, which restricts their ability to grasp objects. After some research, we discovered that only a few companies make gripper devices for quadriplegic patients.

Our mission is to enable quadriplegic and select wheelchair users to grasp objects they would otherwise be unable to, improving their quality of life. Our device has the potential to offer an affordable, adjustable, and reliable solution to millions of users worldwide.

History of the Project

This assistive gripping device was a project originated by EnableTech, a student organization at Cal for building assistive technology, designed around the particular needs of one quadriplegic patient. Throughout the design process, the EnableTech team simultaneously collected data on the needs of other quadriplegic patients. The final prototype was functional, but we are hoping that, by the end of this course, our device will reach an even broader market.

Enable Tech, prototyping stage. Photo by Lara Zlokapa

Improvement Plan

One of our main goals in the next design phase is to make the device mass-customizable. Due to the wide range of conditions quadriplegic patients could have, customizing the device while keeping costs low has been a real challenge for our competitors. By making each component of our device modular, it could be easily updated part by part. This modularity will help us iterate module designs to better meet the needs of individual customers while keeping costs down. We also plan to get more patients on board for further testing.

GripStrong version one. Photo by Lara Zlokapa.

Progress

It is still early in the semester, but we have learned a lot from the GPD class and can’t wait to apply our new knowledge to this project. We recently met with our faculty mentor, Professor Hannah Stuart, to discuss possible design improvements in weight reduction and claw function. Professor Stuart’s specific suggestions included replacing metal components with lighter nylon alternatives, reducing the number of claw shafts, using an aluminum rod, and adding bushings to the device.

There is significant space for improvement in bettering quadriplegic patients’ lives, and we are excited to see the impact our device will deliver to the community!

Follow along with the GripStrong team and their Global Product Development classmates as they continue to develop their projects, drawing from expert insights, a field trip to Hong Kong, and more along the way. Over the course of the semester, we’ll be sharing blog posts from each student team here on Medium (read a post from Team GripStrong here). In the meantime, learn more about the course here.

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