Behind the nationally-recognized affordable bionic arm made for a young boy is a UCF designer with a powerful brain and a big heart.
Driving doctoral student Albert Manero is a dedication to helping others and a strong religious faith.
“I think my personal faith definitely motivates a lot of the projects, and I kind of try to emphasize compassion, so that’s something that affects me every day,” he said.
Manero — who is in Germany on a Fullbright Scholarship — said building the arm was one of his biggest challenges. Resting on his success was a young boy’s confidence and the chance to hug with two arms for the first time.
Manero sought the opportunity after hearing of e-NABLE, a volunteer-based engineering group that makes 3-D-printed prosthetic hands and arms. Manero, who is studying mechanical engineering, got involved with his friends.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to help because we have these degrees in engineering and this is what they’re really for, to try to also give back and make a difference with a degree,’” he said.
Manero and the team, named Limbitless, were matched with 6-year-old Alex Pring from Groveland, Fla. Pring was an exceptional case because all previous designs required that the user had a wrist or elbow bend. He had neither.
“It took us a while to come up with the idea, but we were able to use electromyography which, in short, is when Alex flexes his bicep muscle, it will read the voltage that his muscle is generating and use that to open and close the hand,” Manero said.
The design cost less than $350 and earned Limbitless the STEAM Innovator Award at the STEAM Gala on Oct. 22.
Aside from Manero’s plan to leave for Germany eight weeks after picking up the task, there was another motivating factor.
“When you have emails coming from a mother saying, ‘My 6-year-old is still asking if he’s going to get an arm,’ then it is pretty motivating. If you miss a deadline at a normal job or a research lab you don’t have to apologize to the machine, but when you miss a deadline with a 6-year-old that’s excited, it’s a totally different feeling,” Manero said.
Pring was ultimately given much more than a new arm.
“Just being able to see him walk out with the arm and take it to school and see how his confidence level had changed — it was unbelievable,” Manero said.
Despite being in Germany, Manero and Limbitless are still involved with e-NABLE. A passion for helping others continually motivates them.
“Everyone on the team understands that it’s our responsibility through learning and through rising above that we’re able to give to the people who haven’t had the opportunities we’ve had,” said team member mechanical engineering student Dominique Courbin.
UCF Associate Professor Dr. Seetha Raghavan, who Manero is researching for, has known Manero since his undergraduate career. She said he constantly looks for new ways to improve himself.
“He’s a really good student to represent us in a foreign country,” Raghavan said. “He’s doing a great job of building his capability, but at the same time he’s helping others.”
Manero plans on working in the private space industry after finishing his doctoral program in 2017. In tackling challenges that most would consider near impossible, Manero turns to his faith.
“I think anytime you do what’s considered an impossible project, it ultimately will lead you to prayer,” he said.