By GREGORY ZELLER // NYIT junior Steven Patrikis, on course for a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering next fall, already knows what he wants to do professionally, even if he’s not sure what he wants to study in graduate school.
Patrikis plans to turn his love of electronics and robotics into a career spent helping others. His focus at the moment: folks missing a hand.
Using 3-D printers and other tools inside NYIT-Old Westbury’s Entrepreneurship Technology Innovation Center, Patrikis has prototyped early versions of what he’s calling the Peta-Hand, a prosthetic appendage for lower-arm amputees. The device fulfills multiple conditions important to the inventor: It’s anatomically correct, looks real and isn’t powered by electricity, which Patrikis felt was too limiting.
“I don’t like the idea of the device running off batteries,” Patrikis said. “And bioelectricity can get expensive. I don’t believe that having a super high-tech device that works for only 12 hours and costs thousands of dollars is a good idea.”
That was just one of several thoughts Patrikis had after diving into prosthetics research, inspired originally by a 2011 article in Popular Science magazine on the Stark Hand. That sounds like something from a superhero movie but is actually the creation of real-life inventor Mark Stark that combines the best of the three kinds of artificial hands – purely cosmetic models, low-cost mechanical appendages such as hooks and electronic devices.
“It was spot-on,” Patrikis noted. “It didn’t look like a bulky robotic hand. There was a big ease-of-use factor. It inspired me. I wanted to try to make my own.”
But while Stark’s faux hand helped redefine prosthetics, Patrikis’ research convinced him there was a better, simpler, less-expensive way. When he finally put pen to paper he came up with a design, he supplanted electricity with the power of human motion — like Stark — but also simplified the other inventor’s mechanics.
Patrikis’ device utilizes a five-cable system, a harness that runs from the shoulder to the prosthetic fingertips and torsion springs – the tight, strong springs that make your clipboard clip snap to it. All told, it’s a 33-part assembly that includes a forearm, an upper triceps guard, an articulating wrist and an anatomically accurate hand, all powered by the user himself.
“When the user shrugs their shoulder, the hand will open up,” Patrikis noted. “When they shrug again, the hand will close.”
Other simple motions compel that fully articulated wrist into action and even allow the user to grasp a pen, a feat the inventor has documented via video. (The written message: “Hello world.”) The inventor even put some thought into “the safety factor” and the potential cost – monetary and otherwise – if a user should fall while wearing the hand.
“If a person falls, how does that affect the device?” Patrikis wondered. “How does that affect the user? How does that affect the cost of repairing the device?”
So the Tetra-Hand’s articulated palm is actually a “safety feature,” he explained, rotating to cushion the impact if the user falls. The functional palm also provides a “flow of motion” that makes the device driving-friendly, Patrikis noted.
The depth of detail in the prototype might seem strangely advanced for your typical college junior, but Patrikis is not your typical anything. A board member of NYIT’s Deans Engineering Student Council, he’s also an Eagle Scout and vice president of NYIT’s ASME Student Section.
A robotic inspection device he invented took top honors in a 2013 regional American Society of Mechanical Engineers contest – it took fourth internationally – and he’s a top-10 finisher in the group’s 2014 Lighter Than Air UAV international contest.
When not creating 3-D-printed prosthetics, applying for patents – there’s one pending on the Tetra-Hand – or learning the finer points of Computer-Aided Design software suite Autodesk, Patrikis works as an assistant in the office of Nada Anid, dean of NYIT’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences.
Anid, who praised Patrikis’ work in the school’s ETIC lab and machine shop, noted the junior recently proposed a “research and innovation challenge” for NYIT students, and she’s all for it.
“My answer was, ‘Go ahead, collect proposals and we’ll set up a selection committee,’” Anid noted. “We’ll fund meritorious ideas.”
Funding is on Patrikis’ mind, though with his patent application still pending he knows he has a ways to go before the Tetra-Hand is ready for commercialization. Best-case, prosthetic fingers crossed, he believes the device will be ready to roll by 2020.
For now, he’s still tinkering with prototypes, moving toward live testing and absorbing important lessons about the little things. Case in point: a right-handed prosthetic Patrikis built for an old high school friend to test. His buddy is missing his left hand.
The 21-year-old is also creating a brand logo for the Tetra prosthetics line, all while working toward that fall 2016 undergrad degree and mulling several graduate programs, including potential concentrations in industrial engineering, electrical engineering and additive manufacturing, a loftier term for 3-D printing.
Whatever he decides scholastically, he knows his professional destiny will involve design – with heart.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do, but I’ve always wanted to be a designer,” Patrikis said. “In my ideal vision, I’d be a biomedical engineer, which would be fun for me because I’d be able to make innovative things and help people at the same time.”