Designs for Life
Matt Yarri ’14 develops an exoskeleton brace for walking
Matt Yarri ’14 loves hiking outdoors, and he wanted others to enjoy the experience too. So for his senior thesis, he designed a soft robotic leg brace to help people with aging or injured knees tread more comfortably—and safely—downhill or down the stairs.
“Downhill walking places large amounts of stress on the muscles surrounding one’s knee,” explains Yarri, who came to Harvard from Williston Park, New York, and lived in Currier House. “This can lead to joint pain and falls.”
Working in the lab of Conor J. Walsh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, Yarri developed an exoskeleton with pressure sensors and cables that provide cushioning and support as the wearer heads down a slope.
It’s a good alternative to trekking poles, he says, because “the user doesn’t need to touch it, control it, or even think about it.” The rewarding project earned Yarri a prestigious Hoopes Prize for outstanding scholarship.
Yarri, who graduated in May with a bachelor of science degree in engineering sciences, designed or co-designed several other inventions as an undergraduate. In the Harvard Biodesign Lab one summer, he built microsurgical tools using a novel “pop-up” manufacturing process developed in the Microrobotics Laboratory at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), creating stacks of laser-cut metal, glue, and plastic that could transform into three-dimensional prototypes.
In a junior design tutorial led by Kit Parker, Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics, Yarri and teammates made a fiber-optic embedded dress that changes color in response to sound, location, and the wearer’s heartbeat. “How many people get to say they designed and built an interactive dress as part of their engineering curriculum?” says Yarri.
This fall, Yarri is training his analytical skills on poverty in developing countries through IDinsight, a nonprofit organization in Zambia.
He takes with him strong memories of Harvard, SEAS, and mentors like Alan Asbeck, a postdoctoral researcher in the Biodesign Lab (whom Yarri calls “a constant source of energy, inspiration, and excitement”) and Stan Cotreau, manager of the Physics/SEAS Instructional Machine Shop. Yarri says Cotreau taught him “both how to use the machines, and what it truly means to make something well.”
As seen in HARVARD MAGAZINE
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