A robotic arm concept developed by a team of four mechanical engineering students from the University of Pennsylvania has won the 2013 James Dyson Award. The Titan Arm, a battery powered upper-body robotic arm its developers claim may help reduce the 37 percent of back injuries that occur in the workplace each year,  is intended to augment human strength to increase the ability to perform certain everyday tasks, and assists in the rehabilitation and therapy of back injuries.

The Titan Arm features sensors that track motion and relay data to doctors for remote prognosis, making physical therapy more convenient for patients. Its rehabilitation function allows patients to rebuild muscle and relearn motor control skills, without forfeiting the use of their upper body.

The developers aim to make the device affordable, as similar exoskeleton products are typically not covered by most health insurance providers. The Titan Arm robotic exoskeleton has the potential to be more commercially accessible than current $100,000 options, with developers expecting to be able to bring it to market for less than a tenth of that cost.

Part of the reason for this is the team’s use of modern, inexpensive materials and open source software. Aluminium allowed the developers to machine the parts themselves using the latest  3D printing technologies and CNC machining, and at a fraction of the price of traditional methods. Their use of open source software will allow researchers from around the world to contribute to the further development of the technology, potentially opening it up to thousands of additional researchers.

Run by the James Dyson Foundation, a charity supporting design, technology and engineering education in schools and universities across the world, The Dyson Awards challenge young engineers and designers across 18 countries to develop inventive problem solving inventions.  The winners are encouraged  to use the prize money of $45,000 for further development, testing and, ultimately commercialisation. The Dyson Awards have become a platform for new recruits, with several previous award winners and runners-up going on to be employed by the company.

Hot on the heels of this 2013 announcement is news that the Dyson website is now open for entires in the 2014 Dyson Awards. Innovators, start your engines.