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Issue Date: June 15, 2008, Posted On: 6/18/2008

Getting a foot in the research door

MIT students provide prosthetic work to India

By Paul Imbesi


Above: MIT students help fit an Indian patient for a prosthetic limb. MIT is working with the Jaipur Foot Organization, providing research and prototype design. Photo courtesy of MIT

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with India’s Jaipur Foot Organization to fit its patients with prosthetic limbs more efficiently.

The Jaipur Foot Organization, which was founded in 1975, is based in the capital of Rajasthan. It provides people – many of whom are poor – with devices such as prosthetics limbs and crutches for free. Goutam Reddy, an instructor at MIT who first presented the idea of working with the Jaipur Foot Organization to MIT students in February 2007, said the Jaipur Foot Organization fits the largest amount of patients with prosthetic limbs in the world.

However, Reddy said the organization does not have much time or a large enough budget to work on the research and development of their prosthetics. Instead, the organization’s prosthetics are only slight improvements on old models.

Reddy said the hope is to create a mass-manufacturing technique with better quality assurance. He is also hoping to create a better initial design and then produce that particular design en masse, which is how MIT can help.

Reddy believes the project is a perfect fit for MIT students who can do a lot of prototyping and design at MIT at a faster rate than the Jaipur Foot Organization can. Projects are being done through Developing World Prosthetics, an organization that is a collaboration between MIT and the Jaipur Foot Organization. Under the organization, is an MIT course offered with about 18 students who work on five projects for the Jaipur Foot Organization.   

“By virtue of these projects, our patients will reap the benefit of technology which are being developed by young innovative minds using MIT resources. The beauty of this venture is the cost of the final prototype shall remain within the budget of [the Jaipur Foot Organization] and taken up for mass production in India,” wrote Sanjeev Kumar in an e-mail. Kumar has been the manager of prosthetics and orthotics for the Jaipur Foot Organization in the Delhi branch for more than 15 years. 

Reddy became involved with the Jaipur Foot Organization while he was an undergraduate student studying computer science, electrical engineering and math at MIT. He said he was trying to find a way to apply those skills to helping people. Luckily, there was a lab at MIT which worked on prosthetic devices. Reddy did his undergraduate and master’s degree research at the lab, concentrating on a robotic ankle. Although Reddy thought the robotic ankle was interesting work, the device costs about $40,000 per prosthetic, which limited its affordability to people who could be helped.

While Reddy was working in this lab, he went on vacation to India with his parents and they visited Jaipur (Reddy was born in Michigan and his mother is from Pune, India and his father is from Andhra Pradesh). He previously heard of the organization and he set up a meeting to find out what kinds of prosthetics were available within the Jaipur Foot Organization. Reddy ended up spending about two months with the organization, studying the processes and the materials used in manufacturing prosthetics. He said he came back with a bunch of ideas. “[My thought was to take MIT students who are] really bright, really good at engineering, just dying to work on something in the real world and couple that with trying to improve technology over in India at the Jaipur Foot Organization,” he said.

In what Reddy referred to as the flagship project, MIT students began working on a class assignment to help the Jaipur Foot Organization in February 2007.

According to the MIT News Office, one device MIT students have been working on for the Jaipur Foot Organization could simplify the process of fitting prosthetic legs. The system does not need electricity and also cuts down on wasted materials, helpful when the Jaipur Foot Organization travels to fit patients’ limbs in rural areas.   

One of those students involved in this project is Maria Luckyanova, 21, who took the class in February 2007 and is still working on the project with three other students: Philip Garcia, Tess Veuthey and Jessica Schirmer. 

Luckyanova, who is now a senior and mechanical engineering major at MIT, said the project has been a large time commitment but is worth it. Last August, she traveled to Delhi and Jaipur for the project and traveled to India again in January.   

Reddy said there have been about three student trips to India so far, and each time they brought something new. Reddy added that they have actually begun cast fitments on patients and have also been getting good feedback from the Jaipur Foot Organization on how to improve. This summer, four more students will bring another project to the organization.

Luckyanova said there are plenty of MIT students willing to work on projects like this because they get to travel, work and deliver charitable projects to people who are in need of their work. She added that the Jaipur Foot Organization was happy with the group’s work and excited to work with MIT.    

“MIT students are amongst the best brains on earth, they are compassionate and generous, and I am impressed with their committed approach towards the objective. I understand their academic schedule is pretty busy but in spite of that they find time for this noble cause to help somebody with their novel ideas and zeal to transform them in reality,” wrote the Jaipur Foot Organization’s Kumar.

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