Dyson Award for wearable robotic arm


A battery-powered robotic arm that boosts human strength has won the 2013 James Dyson award.

The Titan Arm, designed by four mechanical engineering students from the University of Pennsylvania, could help people with back injuries rebuild and regain control of muscles.

Man wearing Titan Arm raised aloft

It can also be used by people to lift heavy objects as part of their work.

The team, who spent eight months creating the exoskeleton, will share a prize of £30,000 ($48,000).

“Titan Arm is obviously an ingenious design, but the team’s use of modern, rapid – and relatively inexpensive – manufacturing techniques makes the project even more compelling,” said Sir James Dyson.

“We are ecstatic,” team member Nick Parrotta told the BBC. “It was totally unexpected – just incredible.”

‘Inexpensive aluminium’

Team wearing titan arm
The University of Pennsylvania team shows off its award-winning Titan Arm

The team produced its prototype for £1,200, which they say is a 50th of the typical cost of similar exoskeletons currently on the market.

“We wanted Titan Arm to be affordable, as exoskeletons are rarely covered by health insurance,” said Mr Parrotta, 23, currently studying for a masters in mechanical engineering.

“This informed our design decisions and the materials we used. Most structural components are machined from inexpensive aluminium.”

Academic and commercial interest in wearable robotics is growing according to Conor Walsh, Professor of of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

But costs will have to continue falling if robotics are to feature more often in daily life, he said.

“Reducing cost will be critical for commercial systems, however the total cost is not just the cost of the hardware but also the added cost associated with research and development, quality assurance and regulatory compliance.”

The Titan arm incorporates a rigid back brace to maintain posture, a shoulder featuring rotational joints, and sensors that can track motion and relay data back to doctors for remote prognosis.

It can augment human weight-lifting strength by 40lbs (18kg), say the inventors, while the batteries can last for up to eight hours, depending on intensity of usage and workload.

Electrical signals

The current prototype is operated by a separate joystick, but future versions may incorporate electromyography technology, said Mr Parrotta, which picks up electrical signals produced by muscle tissue, thus allowing users to operate such prosthetics almost without thinking.

Photo of prosthetic hand
Handie, a prosthetic hand with sensors that can read brain signals, won second place

All of the inventors who took part in the competition used 3D-printing to develop and produce their prototypes much more cheaply than would have been possible before.

“Prototyping technology, previously reserved only for companies with big research and development budgets, is enabling young inventors to develop sophisticated concepts at university,” said Sir James.

“They can revitalise industries on a small budget – it is a good time to be an inventor.”

The second prize went to a Japanese team who created Handie, a prosthetic hand with sensors that can read brain signals.

A 3D-printed plastic cast for broken limbs, invented by a team from New Zealand, took the third prize.

The James Dyson Foundation runs the annual award across 18 countries with the aim of encouraging problem-solving inventions.

Dyson registers patent of plans for soundless model.


  • Dyson puts in patent for ‘hand-held blower with an insulating chamber’
  • New designs usually closely guarded
  • Dyson spends nearly £1.5 million a week on research and development

Hairdryers will be the next household gadget to be given the silent treatment by Sir James Dyson as he puts in a patent for a soundless model.

The inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner has registered plans for the gadget which shows diagrams of the ‘hand-held blower with an insulating chamber’.

Sir James is widely known for his vacuum cleaners but he has more recently branched out into bladeless fans and the ‘airblade’ fast-drying hand dryer, The Guardian has reported.

Design: The 'hairblade' hairdryerDesign: The ‘hairblade’ hairdryer

DYSON’S INVENTIONS

Ballbarrow A wheelbarrow with a ball replacing the wheel

Trolleyball A trolley that launched boats

Bagless vacuum cleaner The Dyson cleaner was the first bagless vacuum

Dyson Ball Vacuum cleaner using the ball from the Ballbarrow

Dyson Airblade Fast-working hand dryer

Air Multiplier Bladeless fan

The blueprint for the new hairdryer goes into detail about how it will work. The patent application shows air will flow through two chambers and out the front of the handheld device.

The bladeless fan was another ‘noiseless’ device and hairdressers will surely be first in line as standard hairdryers can be as loud as 75 decibels.

Sir James usually keeps his new designs under wraps and his patents closely guarded. He recently begun a legal battle with Samsung, claiming that the electronics giant ‘ripped off’ one of its inventions.

Inventor: Sir James Dyson closely guards his patents and his company now holds 3,000 for 500 inventions Inventor: Sir James Dyson closely guards his patents and his company now holds 3,000 for 500 inventions

The 66-year-old engineer said the South Korean company’s new MotionSync range ‘directly copied’ the steering mechanics of Dyson’s DC37 and DC39 models.

Dyson said it patented the central ball system – which allows a vacuum to move more easily around corners, table legs and over carpets – in 2009, and spent three years developing the design.

In 2009 a British judge ordered Samsung to pay Dyson about £600,000 after it tried to patent the UK firm’s ‘triple-cyclone’ suction technology.

A champion of British industry, Dyson spends nearly £1.5 million every week on research and development. The company now holds more than 3,000 patents for over 500 inventions.

He also supports up and coming inventors with The James Dyson Award that celebrates and encourages the next generation of design engineers.

It is run by the James Dyson Foundation, Sir James Dyson’s charitable trust, as part of its mission to inspire young people about design engineering.