Young Innovators: IPT

While studying engineering at the University of Illinois, a group of
students decided to find a way to make affordable prosthetic arms available to
amputees in developing countries. Only 4 years later, they have developed the
Open Socket, an arm prosthesis that can be fitted as easily as a pair of shoes,
and IPT, a successful non-profit organization to help them distribute it.

The big idea

Adam Booher entered the University of Illinois interested in both
prosthetics and business and entrepreneurship. So when he was approached by
classmate Jonathan Naber about creating a team to develop prosthetics
for amputees in developing countries, he jumped at the chance.

(From left to right) Adam Booher, Jonathan Naber and Ehsan Noursalehi with an Open Socket prototype tested in Guatemala, outside of the Range of Motion Project clinic.
(From left to right) Adam Booher, Jonathan Naber and Ehsan Noursalehi with an Open Socket prototype tested in Guatemala, outside of the Range of Motion Project clinic.
Images: IPT

“Jonathan is the one who came up with the idea to go after this,
and he built a team of people who were interested in this project,”
Booher, the president of IPT, told O&P Business News. “We got
started about 4 years ago as a group of engineering students out of our own
initiative. This was something that we were all giving up extra time to

Although they initially knew very little about prosthetics, the group
began speaking with experts in the field, building relationships with
prosthetists at the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center and
others in the industry in order to learn more and ask for advice.

“We had a little background and coursework, but, initially, we
didn’t know much about the field of prosthetics. But the more we learned
the more momentum we built,” Booher said.

The group, which included fellow students, Richard Kesler,
Luke Jungles, Ehsan Noursalehi and Hari Vigneswaran, were
inspired by the Jaipur foot and began researching ways to create an affordable
and functional prosthetic arm.

“We saw the Jaipur foot, which can be made in India for about $25,
and wondered why there wasn’t an arm solution equivalent to the foot that
was low-cost and available. So that got us started,” Booher said.

They began building prototypes, focusing on devices that they could
build themselves with a basic set of tools and simple production methods. They
also used materials that could be easily acquired or produced, such as molded
plastics and durable cloth.

“We designed things that could be made in our office so that they
could be readily repaired by anyone, anywhere and didn’t require
specialized tools or knowledge,” Booher said.

Game changer

In the spring of 2010, Naber received the Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student
Prize, a $30,000 grant awarded to college students who are creating sustainable
solutions to real-world issues, for his work with prosthetics. Around the same
time, the group had also been speaking with the Range of Motion Project, a
non-profit organization based in Chicago that operates an O&P clinic in
Guatemala, about possibly testing their prototypes in the clinic. The funding
from the grant enabled them to go.

“At that point, the game kind of changed,” Booher said.
“We spent a week working in the clinic in Guatemala with some of our
prototypes. And we saw first-hand that there really was a need for this, and
everyone there, even the prosthetists and professionals, were really excited
about what we were doing. So that was a clear indicator to us that this was
something that would be good.”

After they returned from Guatemala, the group began thinking about
incorporating as a non-profit organization in order to focus more on developing
their device and enhance their abilities to reach people in need of the

“Once we realized that this is something that there was truly a
need for, we decided to form an organization and work on this over the
long-term,” Booher said. “Our mission is not to build wealth for our
business, but to empower people in need of prosthetic care. So we decided to be
a non-profit organization because we realized that it would potentially allow
us to accomplish our goals.”

(From left to right) Adam Booher and Johnathan Naber fit Mariano with an Open Socket prototype at his home in rural Guatemala.
(From left to right) Adam Booher and Jonathan Naber fit Mariano with an Open Socket prototype at his home in rural Guatemala.

In the summer of 2010, IPT was created, and the organization began
considering how to take the prototypes to the next level.

“The key challenge for us was that we were all very passionate and
very excited about working on this, but we were starting from a blank slate, so
that meant a lot of trial and error,” Booher said. “But after coming
back from Guatemala, we converged on one design.”

The Open Socket

The Open Socket is an off-the-shelf below-elbow prosthesis that can be
fit like a shoe. It comes in small, medium and large sizes and the length,
diameter and contour can all be easily adjusted. The socket is made of rigid
plastic, which is encased in a sleeve that can be adjusted for optimum fit. The
socket is connected to a harness that is worn over the shoulders, and the
harness can be adjusted through simple strapping methods. A cable system runs
the length of the device and connects to the opposite shoulder, which opens and
closes the terminal device as the shoulder moves. It can be fitted in 15
minutes to 20 minutes, does not require specialized knowledge or tools to
adjust and can ideally be produced for less than $300.

“We created a device that is designed to be simple. It is simple to
produce, both at high or low volumes, and is very simple to use,” Booher

Booher and some of the others returned to the Range of Motion clinic in
Guatemala in October 2011 to perform follow-up testing and address any design
issues that still needed to be fixed.

“Instead of the first trip where we were just trying to get our
feet wet, on the second trip, we were able to get targeted and direct feedback
and validate that our design had potential,” Booher said. “We brought
21 copies of the Open Socket to Guatemala and saw nine people wear the device
over a 1-week period. And since then, two people have worn the device as their
prosthesis for 6 months, which was very exciting for us.”

Naber has since returned to Guatemala to oversee the clinical testing,
and he intends to remain there until next summer to collect long-term feedback
and monitor the devices that are in use. He also hopes to explore options for
manufacturing and distributing the Open Socket on a larger scale.

“It’s still in the exploratory stages, but the design of our
device allows for low cost and high volume production,” Booher said.
“It would be fantastic to produce things locally where they will be used,
but we are still evaluating our options. The cost could also change depending
on the specific method of production.”

IPT primarily uses grants and donations to offset their production and
development costs. Moving forward, they plan to continue partnering with other
nonprofit organizations to distribute the Open Socket.

“We are not the right people to be building clinics all over the
world. Our intention is to create this and partner with other organizations
that are already working in developing countries,” Booher said. “A
custom prosthesis is not something that can be replaced by an off-the-shelf
device likes ours, but the reality is that there are not enough prosthetists or
clinics with the necessary tools to help everyone in need. By creating the Open
Socket, we can empower other organizations that are already out there to help
more people more effectively in less time.”— by Megan Gilbride

Disclosure: Booher had no relevant financial disclosures.

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