Problem: Standard hooks don't lock when closed, and they don't grasp things very tightly. Rubber bands regulate the tension of the grip.
Solution: The serrated surfaces of the finger joints offer a stronger grip that's less reliant on rubber bands. The device is especially useful for heavy labor, such as farm work. A backlock keeps the device closed when desired.
Status: Originally made in the 1920s, this device recently went off the market but still has many devoted users. A prosthetist in Fargo loaned two well-worn Trautman hooks to the Open Prosthetics Project to be reverse-engineered and improved. Prototypes have been tested. Orders are being taken now.
Problem: Children born with jaundice require light therapy to process the excess of a chemical called biliruben; otherwise they can suffer brain damage or death. Hospitals in the developing world can't afford the specialized lights used here.
Solution: A group of biomedical engineering students at Duke devised a low-cost biliruben light. Tackle Design further developed the design.
Status: A group of prototypes is being assembled for field testing.
ALL PATENTS INITIATIVE
Problem: Patents registered with the U.S. Patent Office prior to 1976 have been scanned as image files, but their text has been difficult to access.
Solution: The All Patents Initiative is digitizing nearly 4 million patents and making it easier to search through them.
Status: The initial database is in beta testing. Patents from the years 1836 through 1925 are searchable at search.allpatents.org/. HP Labs in San Francisco continues to process the rest.
A BETTER HOOK
Problem: Body-powered hooks come in two varieties: One has a strong grip but can't support much weight; the other has a weak grip but can support more weight.
Solution: Tackle is working on two projects to address this problem. A device called a vector prehensor, developed by two professors at UC-Boulder and MIT, uses a dial and an internal spring to regulate grip tension. Tackle's own Lego prototype (shown here) allows the user to switch gripping modes using one continuous motion.
Status: The professors are sharing their design with OPP, which will make it available for free online. The Tackle team will move from Legos to computer software to make a model of their design.