Monday, June 05, 2017

Cane And Able


Arun Cherian has invented a prosthetic leg using cane. It is low-cost, lighter and flexible

Photos by M. Jithendra 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Vinod Gowda felt tired. The 40-year-old supervisor, in a vineyard in north Bangalore sat down on a chair to rest his feet after walking for three hours. That was because his prosthetic that he used, for his right leg, following an accident, weighed seven kilos. Then one day, at a local hospital, somebody asked him to get in touch with Arun Cherian, the CEO of Rise Legs, a Bangalore-based prosthetic company.

Vinod did and his life changed. Because the prosthetic, manufactured at Rise Legs, is made of cane. “It weighs only 2 ½ kgs,” says Arun. “Now Vinod walks about 13 hours a day without feeling tired.”

Nobody had made a prosthetic using cane before. And Arun stumbled on this idea by sheer accident. In March 2014, he had come down from the USA to provide support for his younger sister's marriage. While at home, at Mavelikkara, the design engineer observed the cane chairs in the living room in a new light.

I realised that a cane is flexible and can take so much of weight,” he says. “I wondered whether I could make a leg out of it.” So, he went to a nearby cane artisan, Abdul Rahman, who said he would try to make one, under Arun's supervision. “And that how the first prototype was made,” says Arun.

Asked the strengths of cane, Arun says, “It has twice the tensile strength of steel and half the weight. It is damage-tolerant and easy to bend. Even though cane and bamboo look similar they are different. Bamboo is hollow inside.”

But there are 1200 varieties of cane. So, after several investigations, Arun now buys a specific type all the way from north-east India. Asked which one, Arun smiles and says, “That's a trade secret.”

So far, he has fitted only a limited number of people. That's because he is still doing trials at CMC Hospital at Vellore and St. John's Hospital in Bangalore.

Quality is the No 1 priority for me,” he says. “Until I am able to figure out how to do service at scale, we will be fitting people in a phased manner.”

Incidentally, the prices range from Rs 4000 to Rs 40,000 and above, depending on modifications. Arun has also developed custom-made wheelchairs for basketball and tennis players.

Arun also encourages them to participate in individual sports. Prajwal Basavaraj Rajath, who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident four years ago, took part in the 5 kms obstacle race as well as the 10 kms race in Bengaluru. He received training from the Invictus Performance Lab.

Prajwal was provided with the best coaches from the lab,” says Arun. “Many of the differently-able were shocked that they could take part in physical competitions. In fact, one of our clients took part in a triathlon in Switzerland.” Rise Legs also provides opportunities for those who are interested in art and dance programmes.

To see them blossom is one of the most fulfilling experiences for me,” says Arun.

He is being supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, where he is a D-Lab Fellow, as well as the Association of People with Disability, Bangalore.

As he goes about his research, he has been receiving queries from countries like Australia, Uganda, West Indies, Mexico, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina and Canada.

I am in no hurry,” says Arun, who quit his PhD in mechanical engineering at Purdue University, USA to develop Rise Legs. “I want to make a product that will make a difference in the lives of people.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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