This article is a complement to the folder "Intellectual Property, a marker of innovation".
“Find the right muscle and put it to work! That is what Baah Box, a cheap, easy-to-build open-source kit, can offer”
When a person has the use of only one limb – either from birth or as a result of an accident – it can be difficult to know which muscle to use to operate a prosthetic.
Myoelectric prostheses are very pricey – €17,000 to €60,000 – and prior to implant, they require training that puts patients through a number of contraction exercises to find the muscles needed.
“The current rehabilitation system is long and tedious, plus it forces patients to travel to a specialised centre often far from where they live for a session that lasts only a few minutes,” states Orange designer/developer Marc Poppleton. Having had his forearm amputated at birth, he knows how hard patients have to work to stimulate their prosthetic.
Creating an open-source kit
With this in mind, to allow both patients and hospitals to benefit from the technologies most suited to their needs and, in particular, to make the equipment accessible to the greatest number of people, a group of Orange developers and designers led by software engineer Frédérique Pinson designed an easy-to-build kit and published the plans as open source (https://github.com/Orange-OpenSource/BaahBox-Arduino/). Baah Box (like the sound a sheep makes) comprises a box connected to two electrodes, which are placed on the muscles and communicate via Bluetooth with games on a user’s smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android).
“Next, patients simply launch the games that, in time, will help them to operate their prosthetic limbs,” explains project co-creator Marc Poppleton. “For example, making a little sheep jump over a fence by contracting a muscle or steering a spaceship right or left to avoid hitting obstacles by using two muscles.”
“To supplement the technological benefits this kit has to offer,” explains Frédérique Pinson, “we wanted to make the games fun, especially for kids who can use the kit in their homes and avoid having to wait for an appointment at the rehabilitation centre.”
The kit can also be used for functional rehabilitation by connecting the box to a joystick, for instance. The kit is currently undergoing tests with patients at the Lannion-Trestel University Hospital, a leading centre for functional rehabilitation in northern Brittany. “It’s a way of meeting patients’ true needs while innovating at the same time,” she adds.
According to department head Bruno Terrien who supported this goal, “This social, digital and human initiative has unleashed employees’ creativity, fostered a sense of letting go, built bridges and encouraged new discussions both within and beyond one department or one division, thereby boosting everyone’s motivation for teamwork.”
A philanthropic approach backed by Orange’s Intellectual Property Department
From its inception, the project has been approached with a philanthropic aim. Orange’s Intellectual Property Department wanted to highlight this when it agreed to publish the various elements as open source under a viral licence. “This type of licence is rights-free and allows anyone that wishes to make changes to the software to publish their changes,” comments Alain de Laval from Orange’s Intellectual Property and Licensing Department. This system makes the results of a person’s work available to the greatest number of people by preventing it from being privatised by a third party.
“This is ideal for the project to be able to continue to adapt to different types of injuries,” concludes Frédérique Pinson. Rehabilitation centres were awaiting this progress.