Watch Cal Poly engineering students present prosthetic hand to 10-year-old boy
After months of anticipation, a young boy who lost most of his fingers in a fiery and deadly car crash is the owner of two new prosthetic hands made just for him by a team of Cal Poly engineering students.
Julian Reynoso, 10, loves Pokemon, video games, Legos and riding his scooter. And according to the Cal Poly students who have gotten to know him, he is an inspiring example of the strength of the human spirit.
The QL+ lab on campus was a flurry of work and celebratory cheers Saturday afternoon, as teams in the Quality of Life Plus club completed projects meant to improve the lives of people who have been injured.
Among them, the Hands for Julian team, many of whom had been awake for 48 hours faced with last-minute fixes and a near crisis in the sprint to complete a set of prosthetics, including a mechanized bespoke bionic hand.
“Julian is really our source of power and our source of energy throughout this project. He’s really proved something important to us, the power to prevail in spite of tragedy,” said Ryan Kissinger, a mechanical engineering student who led the team.
Julian’s childhood forever changed in April 2018, when the minivan he was in with his family was struck by a suspected drunken driver and dragged 25 feet before catching fire, according to Cal Poly. He and his mother survived; His father, his little sister and his baby brother were killed.
When Kissinger found out, he instantly wanted to help Julian “be a kid again.”
“We want to provide a restorative force to Julian. We want him to be able to play with Legos and to interface with his world and be able to have that connection,” Kissinger said.
QL+ students build bionic mechanized hand
Early on in the project, the team realized they would need two different prosthetics to serve the level of disability for each hand.
Julian could control the action of three fingers and a thumb on his right side with a mechanical hand. But his left hand was more severely injured, requiring the team to build a bionic hand with motorized fingers.
They didn’t want to mimic a hand, said Austin Conrad, a mechanical engineering student who co-led the team.
“The idea wasn’t to replace the hands that he lost. It was to try to give him something that when someone looks at they go, ‘Wow, that is so cool. What is that?’ And they don’t go, ‘Oh, what happened to you’,” Conrad said.
Julian happens to be a fan of Anime and Marvel, interests shared by some of the team members who “kind of treat that fun stuff as inspiration,” Conrad said.
As a result, the left prosthetic is a black and gold bionic glove-like prosthetic inspired by Iron Man and Marvel’s Thanos: The Infinity Gauntlet.
It couldn’t just look cool, it had to be functional and comfortable.
That’s where biomedical engineering student Leila Assal’s interests were focused. Assal, a graduate of Arroyo Grande High School, took molds of Julian’s growing and changing hands and contributed to the design considering ergonomics.
“He is very temperature-sensitive, so any material that gave off heat when it cured wasn’t going to work because it would be too harmful. I was working with a lot of different materials to find what works for him,” Assal said.
Working on the project, she said, has given her more confidence and knowledge about what she is good at.
“It’s been amazing. It’s been really humbling to be able to work on a project that is going to have an impact on someone else’s life. It makes me excited to talk about my major, for once,” she joked.
Less than an hour before Julian arrived on campus to receive the hand, the team was still building, next to a stack of empty pizza boxes.
Christian Aguirre, who studies electrical engineering, was up all Friday night soldering and creating the connectors between the board and all of the components.
Days earlier, Kissinger and Conrad mapped out hour by hour everything that had to be completed by Saturday. The project has been nearly a full-time job for some of them; Kissinger postponed graduating until the fall to focus on the project.
Everything came to a near screaming halt in the early morning hours Saturday.
Aguirre couldn’t do his work until after the full-day 3D print was done. But after months and days and hours of work, there was a problem with the electronics and the motorized thumb failed to move.
“At that point it was the few of us on basically no sleep,” Conrad said.
Then, “as the sun rose up over the campus, we finally got all the electronics working and mechatronics. At the first light, we got the thumb to work and we freaked out. We were incredibly excited,” Kissinger said.
Julian was wearing a baseball cap, long sleeves and a bandana over his face when he arrived on campus with his mother around 6 p.m.
The team surrounded him for pictures and to talk about the project, as reporters snapped photos and video. It seems to have been overwhelming. He didn’t say much, but his eyes were big when the bionic glove was first placed in his arms.
The prosthetics are designed to grow with him, Kissinger said. If Julian wants, he can be refitted for lining for the socket, so he’s still able to press the buttons.
“Whether he uses it for two days or two years, I believe this is a message,” Kissinger said. “It’s a message to the community about hope and to his family, that the world cares about the Reynoso family.”