Four undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania won this year's James Dyson Foundation Award for their single-arm exoskeleton: the Titan Arm. There are already full-body exoskeleton models on the consumer market; this device proposes an interesting iteration on that technology for users with more isolated mobility challenges.

Design team member Elizabeth Beattie said the design is distinguished from other exoskeletons in several ways: "Existing exoskeletons are bulky, expensive, and tethered. Our challenge was to build an exoskeletal system that was streamlined, inexpensive, and wireless." Compared to the typical $100,000 for a full exoskeletal system, these students claim their design comes in at around $2000. And they plan to release a version of Titan as an open-source platform for other researchers to work from.

This pared-down machine would be used in physical therapy settings, say the team, where it could gather data from users who are recovering from injury. But more than that, they say, "augmented strength is applicable to physically intensive occupations, as well as search and rescue operations. Each year, thousands of workers must take leave due to injuries triggered by heavy lifting; with augmented strength, workers could avoid harmful situations."

The Dyson Foundation award this year honored prosthetic designs in its two runners-up as well: a 3D printed prosthetic hand and a new support system for bone fractures, also 3D print technology. Dyson engineer Rob Green said that since the award is targeted toward problem-solving designs, "it's natural for us to be drawn to prosthetics. There's a drive for students to come up with a design that will generally help people."

Images and more via Dyson Foundation and the Titan Arm site. More technical specs at the Dyson Award's web site.

[Images: First: A man facing away from camera holds up his augmented arm, the Titan's metal scaffolding encasing his flesh arm and attached to a power system on his lower back. Four other shots show a young man in a gym, able to augment his natural lifting capacity with the portable, wearable system.]