Aussie’s helping hand inspired by Iron Man

Iron Man and RoboCop have provided the early inspiration for a young, award-winning engineering whiz from Perth to go on to create a helping hand for rehab patients.


Anthony Phan, 21, returned to the films that first led him to robotics when he had to come up with a final year thesis project for his mechatronics engineering degree at Curtin University last year.

“I wanted to choose something that made me want to be an engineer in the first place, and that was watching Iron Man,” he told AAP.

“But when I started doing a bit more research, I found out all the potential for it to help a lot of people.”

And so Mr Phan set about developing a combination of the two – a robotic hand exoskeleton that can be used by those needing hand rehabilitation.

He has designed, built and tested a prototype, and it is making heads turn.

The invention took home the undergraduate tertiary student award at the iAwards – the peak ICT industry awards – on Thursday night.

“The whole idea is it’s personalised treatment for people with disability,” Mr Phan said.

A 3D printed medical device, it fits like a glove and can be tailored to fit anyone.

“(It) gives them their independence back, really,” he said.

“That’s the idea, to tailor-make a device for each patient, that they can wear and it will just allow them to have movement back in their hands if they have disabilities from stroke or cerebral palsy or diseases like that.”

It is not yet at the clinical trial stage because Mr Phan says it needs to be refined perfectly so it can fully ensure people’s safety. However, it has been tested on a healthy individual and he says “we’re just going to go forward from here”.

Mr Phan says it is possible this kind of technology could be applied to other limbs.

But what about an Iron Man suit?

“That’s a huge undertaking,” he says, laughing.

“That’s a bit down the line, to be honest. We’ll stick with the hand for now.”