UPenn students invent revolutionary device, win international award

Nick McGill, center, Elizabeth Beattie, and Nick Parrotta, show off the Titan Arm, an upper-body exoskeleton that increases human strength. Charles Mostoller/METRO
Nick McGill, center, Elizabeth Beattie, and Nick Parrotta, show off the Titan Arm, an upper-body exoskeleton that increases human strength. Charles Mostoller/METRO

It started as a brainchild with four University of Pennsylvania students and now, it could revolutionize the medical and engineering fields.

It’s the Titan Arm, a robotic exoskeleton device that helps strengthen and rebuild muscles, and it won the foursome a 2013 James Dyson Award, making them the first U.S. group to win the honor.

Their $45,000 prize will go a long way.

“We’re eager to push it forward and do more with it,” said team member Elizabeth Beattie.

She, along with Nick McGill, Nick Parrotta and Niko Vladimirov started working on the senior design project about a year ago.

The mechanical engineering students also used their robotics and design skills to develop the prototype, which Dyson officials say costs significantly less to make than similar exoskeletons.

It didn’t take the group too long to come up with a product they were satisfied with.

“It was pretty exciting,” McGill said. “It was just a feat of engineering accomplishment. You work really hard and oftentimes you don’t get such a satisfying end product. That’s what really generated our excitement.”

The device is battery-operated, with a remote control, and attaches to a person’s arm allowing them to rehab after suffering injuries. With the money, Beattie said the group has high hopes.

“Instead of the user directly controlling the arm,” she said, “[it would be] able to sense changes in muscle activity using skin patches to measure electro signals that would activate it.”

Vladimirov, one of the group members, is working on the West Coast but is still heavily involved in the project; McGill said Vladimirov has made contacts there to better develop and market their product.

They had learned of the Dyson Award, given to young engineers and designers through the James Dyson Foundation, by one of their professors. They were chosen as recipients from 650 groups in 18 countries worldwide.

The group also credited UPenn and Penn Engineering; they had access to the machine shop, 3D printers and laser cutters to develop the Titan Arm.

Nick McGill, center, Elizabeth Beattie, and Nick Parrotta, show off the Titan Arm, an upper-body exoskeleton that increases human strength.
Nick McGill, center, Elizabeth Beattie, and Nick Parrotta, show off the Titan Arm, an upper-body exoskeleton that increases human strength.

Who can use this device?

McGill said the Titan Arm is aimed at users in physical therapy as well as occupational lifting. “We could add something of value to warehouse workers — they tun into a lot of stress and strain in their jobs.”

The group has already been contacted by interested folk.

“A woman on the West Coast suffered from an injury and now she doesn’t have the strength to hold a cast iron pan,” Beattie said. “It’s driven our ideas for the Titan Arm and how we can hone in on the systems and really design them to meet the user’s need.”

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Twitter: @metrophilly

Follow City Editor Christina Paciolla on Twitter: @cpaciolla

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Facebook: Metro Philadelphia


Mayor pledges lower greenhouse gas emissions from New…

Just hours before the start of the People’s Climate March on Sunday, and two days ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit, Mayor Bill de…


The best places to see the Northern Lights…

A large solar storm hit the Earth's atmosphere and will tonight illuminate the skies with aurora borealis -- also known as the Northern Lights.


Police officer killed Sunday morning Bronx crash, 8…

One NYPD police officer was killed and eight other officers were injured early Sunday morning when the van they were traveling in crashed  in the…


Pennsylvania police shooter manhunt near home of suspect's…

A police manhunt intensified on Friday for the gunman who killed an officer and wounded another in an ambush at a Pennsylvania police barracks a week ago.


'How to Get Away with' mischaracterizing Shondra Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes read Alessandra Stanley's New York Times piece about her being "an angry black woman" and "a romance writer" and it did not sit well with her.


New nude celebrity selfies leak … and Clay…

A new batch of nude selfies of Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Hudgens, Lake Bell and Avril Lavigne hit the web and Clay Aiken has something to say!


James Spader's route to villainy on "The Blacklist"

In honor of the second season premiere of "The Blacklist" tonight, where James Spader plays good guy/bad guy Raymond “Red” Reddington, it’s a good time to look back at Spader’s…


True Detective


Jay Cutler takes Marc Trestman's coaching to heart

While Jay Cutler turned to an autobiography on the man who would be his head coach, Trestman had personal experience with the player.


Jets vs. Bears: 3 things to watch

Jets fans likely chalked up Monday's matchup with the Bears as a loss when the NFL schedule came out. But given their team's play so…


Rashad Jennings carries Giants in first win this…

Rashad Jennings, who came to New York from Oakland last year, by way of Jacksonville, was highly coveted this offseason by general manager Jerry Reese.


3 things we learned as Giants pick up…

The Giants picked up their first win of the season over the Texans.


Here's how to make the most of visit…

You’re primped, you’re looking polished, you’re prepared with a stack of resumes. Job fair hunters, unite! There are a few things to keep in mind…


Learn how to study effectively and stop cramming…

Picture this: It’s midterm week, and college students everywhere are trying to frantically memorize all of the math formulas, political theories and historical facts that…


How motherhood inspired Bethenny Frankel's new book

Bethenny Frankel's new children's book is about how her daughter and dog didn't always get alone.


A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.