Baird invents robotic hand and grabs industry attention

Liberty eighth-grader Katelin Baird shows her first-place ribbon at the regional science fair. Her bio-robotic hand is displayed in the case behind her. (CONTRIBUTED)
Liberty eighth-grader Katelin Baird shows her first-place ribbon at the regional science fair. Her bio-robotic hand is displayed in the case behind her. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Katelin Baird’s science project was so impressive that business leaders want to meet her.

An eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School, Baird designed and built a robotic hand for her project, “Compliant Bio-Robotic Prosthesis with Microprocessor Control.”

Baird was motivated by the movie “Soul Surfer,” the story of surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm during a shark attack. Hamilton eventually chose not to wear her prosthesis because it was purely cosmetic.

“I was surprised that the prosthetic did not fit the 13-year-old girl,” Baird said. “Bethany said it basically just hung there. Bethany found that she could not grip with the prosthetic or support weight to push herself up on the surfboard.”

Baird proved that she could better that design with “a more functional bio-robotic prosthetic with the same dimensions as a 13-year-old girl by using aluminum and inexpensive, microprocessor-controlled servos.”

“Katelin did so well at the science fair that industries (including Toyota) have invited her to come and look over their facilities and given her money,” Carla Beardslee said. Beardslee teaches physical science at Liberty and works to organize the science fair.

In construction, Baird used Aluminum C-Channel for the thumb and finger metacarpals and phalanges. “Servos move the thumb and fingers. A pulse-width modulator (PWM) signals the servo to move … based on the pulse width of the control signal,” she said.

A Raspberry Pi, a “credit-card sized personal computer,” served as the microprocessor. A camera SD card stored the Linux operating system and application programs.

Baird said her project demonstrates “it is possible to design and build an inexpensive bio-robotic hand with the same dimensions and comparable range of motion as a 13-year-old girl.”

The dimensions precisely match thumb and finger phalanges of Baird’s hand. “The thumb adds independent motion … in opposition to the index finger for grasping and pinching,” she said. “I proved my hypothesis is correct.”

Katelin’s parents are Keith and Kim Baird.

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