Asa Hammond, cofounder of the Benevolent Technologies for Health project and undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, started out in the entertainment business creating visual effects for feature films until the urge to help others pushed him to search for a new career.

“The Benevolent Technologies for Health project is an organization that is trying to bring a new adjustable prosthetics device to market,” Hammond said. “We are a company that formed around an initial effort that came out of the Hacking Medicine event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our group met there, started working on the problem by coming up with a novel solution and we’ve been working on it ever since.”

The BETH project

The Benevolent Technologies for Health (BETH) project began when Hammond learned about the amputations performed in Haiti due to the 2010 earthquake.

“I heard that they were performing amputations on crush victims essentially because they did not have any follow-up care possibilities,” Hammond said. “People would get a crush injury and, because of the worry of infection and gangrene, they would just cut off their legs. It did not end up being a huge amount of numbers like many other conflicts in the world for amputations, but it still left me with this terrible tragic picture of what was going on.”

Working with robotics at the time, Hammond began to think about how to make prosthetic care more cost effective for amputees in developing countries. With an interest in working on sockets, he pitched his idea on better fit and customized socket technology at a Hacking Medicine event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where it received positive feedback and won an award.

Although the project was originally started to help amputees in developing countries who do not have access to prosthetic care, Hammond and his colleagues found out that fitting problems with prostheses extended to the United States as well.

“The problem of fit is something that we’ve heard about quite a bit from US amputees,” Hammond said. “If we can create a way that a prosthetist can quickly fit something to a patient without going through a longer molding process of creating a customized prosthetic, hopefully we’ll be able to save prosthetists time and potentially give some adjustability to patients so they can vary the fit of the prosthesis throughout the day.”

The future of the BETH project

Currently on its fifth prototype, the BETH project was runner-up in the Africa Innovate Challenge and the James Dyson award, as well as a grantee of the MIT Ideas Global Challenge. The fifth prototype will be made from a stronger external material, according to Hammond, and will undergo several trials to show its effectiveness.

However, with this next prototype idea, Hammond and colleagues are looking for funding to continue their project, which they would like to have in production within the next 2 years.

“Realistically it is still too early to make predictions on when the socket can go into production. Currently, we are looking for some money so we can get the socket into a trial situation to biomechanically show the difference and viability of the overall idea. We have been able to do well on our budget, but in this next phase we are making 10 different sockets, so our primary goal right now is fundraising,” Hammond said. “We are trying to bring a new product into the prosthetic space, as well as bring this technology into other spheres, such as orthotic applications.” — by Casey Murphy

Disclosure: Hammond is cofounder of the BETH project.

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