Watch Robert Downey Jr. Give a Kid a Real Bionic Arm

Chris Wiltz

March 13, 2015

2 Min Read
Watch Robert Downey Jr. Give a Kid a Real Bionic Arm

Since 2014 Albert Manero II, a Fulbright Scholar studying for a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Central Florida (UCF), has been spearheading a project through his nonprofit, Limbitless Solutions, to provide free, 3D-printed myoelectric arms to disabled children.

His most recent donation got Robert Downey Jr. in on the act. Downey showed up in character as Tony Stark to present Alex, a 7-year-old born with a partially developed right arm, with a brand new bionic prosthetic modeled in the fashion of Iron Man's gauntlets.

In a video featured on Microsoft's The Collective Project, Manero said he was first inspired after listening to a radio interview with the creator of the first 3D-printed mechanical hands. Eight weeks after that Manero and their team presented Alex with his first bionic arm -- one modeled after Optimus Prime from the Transformers films.

"You hear about these kids who have no hope and then, all of a sudden, a little bit of teamwork and engineering gives these families hope," Manero said in the video.

The arms are suitable for children suffering from birth defects, amputations, and accidents, and cost $350 each to produce. Most striking about the Limbitless designs is how they take cues from pop culture rather than being generic. Manero said his team is working with artists and designers to give each arm a custom flair.

"We thought that kids just wanted to blend in and they wanted to feel normal, but it turns out that it's much more about personal identity and expression," Manero said.

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Limbitless' myoelectric arm is driven by an Arduino Micro microcontroller board, coupled with a 150 oz-in digital aircraft servo to drive movement and a muscle sensor produced by Advancer Technologies for myoelectric input. The whole thing is powered by two 3.6V and one 7.4V rechargable LiPo batteries.

For anyone interested in producing the arms themselves Manero has made full downloadable instructions available freely via Creative Commons.

Now, prepare your heart for warming:

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

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