A few UCF students have helped a 6-year-old boy become a real-life "Transformer" with the construction of a prosthetic arm.
Alex Pring was born with part of his arm missing, and his family was able to get in contact with UCF students who wanted to help him by giving him something to make his life a little easier.
A team of interdisciplinary students devoted time in UCF's College of Engineering machine lab to use 3-D printers to construct the arm.
Albert Manero, an engineering student and lead developer of the team, earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in Aerospace Engineering and is currently finishing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.
"[The team] brought our parts in and had the machinist look at the designs. We made a lot of improvements in just a couple of weeks, and we now have this product for the family to take home," Manero said.
Manero said the process of harnessing the arm to Pring's body only takes a couple of minutes.
There is a custom-designed shoulder brace and three electrodes that go onto the muscle grooves where Pring will flex his bicep to control the hand.
Pring adapted to using the arm very quickly, Manero said, and he also learned how to throw a ball within a short amount of time.
"I actually wanted a robot arm so people would stop calling my arm bad names. It hurts all my feelings," Pring said. "Now nobody will ever tease me."
The team's goal was to create a simple solution for Pring, as well as to keep the cost low and easily accessible for families to potentially design on their own.
"Our team really feels strongly that you should not be profiting off of giving children arms," Manero said.
In the span of eight weeks, and at the cost of only $350, the team has been able to change a little boy's life for the better.
It has decided to distribute the blueprints worldwide via the Internet so people can share it with other families who need it.
For Pring, the arm will be scaled through the use of 3-D printing as he continues to grow and develop.
"As Alex goes forward, we're going to be working him with a physical therapist from UCF, that way he can practice with the arm and we can make it work for him and his muscle grooves as he starts to build and develop," Manero said. "We have no doubt that Alex is going to grow up and very quickly get very strong."
Since the process of meeting Pring and getting to know his family, Manero said the team has been moved to see the boy's development, and UCF is also interested in seeing Pring and other students like him proceed in their education.
As a result, The Limitless Foundation has been created to provide scholarship opportunities at UCF for kids just like Pring.
"It's really important to try to get Alex the confidence when he's in school to know that he is perfectly made and can do anything he wants," Manero said. "That's what the focus of this Limitless project was — to make him know that he really is limitless."
Tyler Petresky, a freshman computer engineering major and lead electronics developer on the team, said the team did a lot of troubleshooting and researching on how to actually make the arm work.
"My heart is so warmed to be able to be a part of this project and see little Alex's face whenever he puts the arm on; it's just priceless," Petresky said.
Petresky said he is excited for Pring because he will be able to use his new arm in his daily life.
The team stressed they would not have been able to come up with this solution without the help of the manager in the machine lab, Tim Lindner.
When the team brought its idea into the lab, Lindner said it worked through every problem that arose, printing several prototype parts and working out little details.
"It was really good how all the kids from different sciences came together," Lindner said. "I could see things coming together, and I knew it was really going to be a great thing. It really turned out much more amazing than I thought."
The machine lab is currently under renovation because new machines are coming in to make the lab even better in late September, said Kimberly Lewis, director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The resulting arm has brought joy and happiness to Pring as well, and he said it makes him feel special — like a Transformer.
"I feel good; I feel everything good, even my robot arm — it's not even heavy," Pring said.
With his new arm, Pring said he will be able to climb things, ride his bike, go fishing with his dad and hold his papers at school.
His mom, Alyson Pring, said the biggest thing the new arm gave Pring was confidence.
"You can see every time [he] talks to somebody he just has bigger and bigger confidence, and that's a good thing for him because when people would give him a hard time, that would make him feel really small," she said.
Alyson said Pring used to tell her that he does not want to be different, but now his new arm helps him embrace the fact that it is OK to be unique.
She said it is important to understand that everybody is born differently, but that is what makes someone special.
"I told [him] that even if it just changes one thing that he couldn't do before, it will make him feel a lot better because people aren't looking at him because he's got a little arm. People are looking at him because he has his robot arm," Alyson said.
All of the team members have promised to not give up on Pring.
They have already come up with a newer model with an elbow, and said they will be there for the family whenever they are in need.