Kenyan inventors, David Gathu and Moses Kiuna are the creators of bio-robotic limbs that help the disabled. They were unable to further their education past Form Four but never lost their desire for science and technology.
The two developed a robotic arm that converts brain cells into movement. It has a helmet which converts electric waves into neuronodes which instruct the arm on what to do.
While demonstrating the functionality of their creation, the robotic arm could lift water bottles to the mouth of the inventors.
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Here is their story as told by WoK.
Gathu and Kiuna invented the bio-robotic arm at their home laboratory. The structure is made out of iron sheets and a gravel floor. The shed lies next to a chicken coop.
During an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA) in February 2021, Kiuna revealed that the house sometimes shakes during a strong wind. They are forced to repair the sheets regularly to prevent rainwater from seeping into the laboratory.
The two established it with the sole goal of adding independence and control to the lives of people without limbs.
During an interview with Interesting Engineering’s Loukia Papadopoulos, Kiuna stated that he drew inspiration to build the robotic arm from his desire to help people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, birth defects, and strokes.
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“Since my childhood, I have been a curious and passionate innovator. The idea of a robotic arm stuck in my mind when I was in primary school and witnessed one of my friends’ mum who was amputated in the hand below the elbow. My classmates didn’t want to be associated with her and that’s when I thought of building a machine interfaced with humans at a cellular level,” said Kiuna.
On the other hand, Gathu revealed that he got his inspiration from a movie.
“I was inspired by a TV movie series that was called robot cop that was done by a guy called Alex Murphy. I kept thinking about this movie and about how a robotic machine unit could interface with a human at a cellular level,” said Gathu.
“The aim of this brain-to-machine interface is to provide direct communication between the brain and machine without the use of muscles or peripheral nerves. I believe that in 10 years we can become the leading African noninvasive bio robotics/bionics producers,” he added.
Gathu and Kiuna noted that their intention is to transform the world, starting from their community with the revolutionary arm.
The two developed the bionic arms from locally sourced materials. They collect most of the materials they use from dumped items such as plastic, rubber, wiring, old computer motherboards, LED lights, USB devices, switches, optical drives, heat sinks, fans, and power supply units – components that they say could be quite expensive to purchase new from a shop.
“People throw away a lot of things that are harmful to the environment just because they don’t work. If they don’t work, it might be just one component that’s faulty but all the other components still work and can be recycled,” Gathu told AA.
“We’ve recycled everything that you see here. They throw it away, we pick it up and use it. This has saved us from spending a lot of money because we’re not backed up financially by anyone to come up with our innovations.”
During the interview with interesting Engineering, Kiuna goes on to demonstrate how the arm works. He wears the helmet and immediately, the bionic arm goes for the bottle with water, raises it to his mouth and he is able to drink.
He then lowers the arm, and places the bottle on a table.
“So once you wear this helmet, brain signals will be sent to the arm,” Kiuna explained.
“The brain signals will be converted into an electrical current which is known as a NeuroNode, which will then go all the way to the hand and tell it what to do,” he added.
Gathu and Kiuna also developed a Covid-19 decontamination device that can sanitize surfaces and floors. The machine converts oxygen into an oxide through a chain of reactions.
“The oxide, which is a highly reactive compound, then destroys proteins that makeup viruses, fungi and bacteria through oxidation,” he says.
They built the device in nine months, but the work had begun eight years ago when the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) emerged.
“The chemical structures of MERS and Covid-19 are almost similar (both are coronaviruses). We spent many years studying the composition before we came up with the equipment,” he adds.