WPK 2. Bioniks CTO and robotics engineer Anas Niaz fixing the bionic arm as little Bilal eagerly waits to use his Iron Man arm. Photo taken at Bilal's home in Rawalpindi. Image Credit - Sana Jamal_Gulf News-1570190982443
A prosthetic limb being fitted on to Bilal Amin at the Bioniks facility. Image Credit: Sana Jamal

Islamabad: The high-voltage electric shock suffered by little Bilal Amin while playing with his siblings was a shock the family was never prepared for.

“Both his hands were burnt and blackened. He remained at the hospital burn unit for 30 days and underwent different treatments,” said Muhammad Amin, father of the seven-year-old.

As if the electric shock was not enough of a jolt, the doctors told them Bilal would have to lose both his hands.

“They insisted there was no other option. That if they didn’t amputate, the infection could be life-threatening,” Amin told Gulf News as he looked at his little boy.

“How can any parent bear this pain?” he asked. The traumatic incident left the boy physical and mentally and the family emotionally shattered.

WPK 3. Bilal with his parents and three siblings, proudly showing his shiny new red and golden arm. “I loved Iron Man. Now I am one” Bilal told Gulf News. Image Credit - Sana Jamal_Gulf News-1570190984144
Bilal Amin with his parents and three siblings, proudly showing his shiny new red and golden arm.

Since the day of accident on 21 April 2019, the father spared no effort to find relief for his boy.

“I paid about PKR 1 million (USD 6380) in hospital bills, surgery and medication and was yet to find a prosthetic solution” he shared.

He also sought some compensation from Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) for it was bare and hanging electrical wire that led to the mishap.

“I have also lodged complaint on Pakistan Citizen’s Portal where the issue is still pending.”

Father continues search

“Prosthetic arms are widely available for adults but access for kids is difficult” he explained. During this time the family did not lose hope. His mother was constantly praying and hoping for a miracle.

“I believe Bioniks was an answer to our prayer” Amin said. When Bilal’s father got in touch with Bioniks, Pakistan’s first bionic limb start-up, little did he know that they would turn his son’s disability into a superpower.

“These young guys are really supportive and patiently answered all my queries.”

Soon, the family visited Karachi where the company is based to get Bilal robotic arms in second week of August.

“I can’t describe how happy he was. Seeing him pick something up after months was a feeling beyond words,” the father said.

I am Iron Man

As Bilal is still getting used to his arm, team Bioniks came to check up on him after a month at his home in Rawalpindi to fix some technical issues where Gulf News correspondent met the family.

After fixing the robotic arm, the Bioniks co-founder, Anaz Niaz, asked Bilal to try it. But the boy looked little uneasy. “I will drop the keys again,” he said nervously. “How will you know if you don’t try?” Anas asked. He did try and failed the first time but in the second attempt he was able to pick it and that brought a big smile on his face. He didn’t stop there. He readily brought a ball and started playing with his sister as if to make sure the arm is now working properly.

Proudly showing his shiny new red and golden arm, Bilal declared: “I loved Iron Man. Now I am one.” His three siblings are equally excited. “Look, his hand also lights up just like his favourite superhero” exulted his 10-year-old sister, Laiba Amin, pointing at palm of the glove. “He can play with us and paint too. He wants to become an artist actually” she shared.

The bionic arm has had a life-changing impact on Bilal’s ability to perform daily tasks such as picking things, eating and drinking. But the most profound impact has been on his mental health. “We were troubled to see our boy so sad and lonely. He didn’t want to go school or face his friends. And now he can’t wait to show them his new arm” Bilal’s mother said.

Bioniks — Turning disabilities into superpowers

Bioniks is a first-of-its-kind start-up in Pakistan, founded in 2016 by two mechatronics engineering students at SZABIST, Anas Niaz, 26, and Ovais Hussain Qureshi, 28.

“Robotic arm was one of the products during our final semester project but we decided to focus on bionics limbs to address the needs of thousands of children at lowest possible cost,” Bioniks CTO Anas told Gulf News.

Mir Bayyan Baloch, 5, was the first Pakistani child to receive a 3D-printed mechanical prosthetic in 2016. Since then, they have tailored bionic arms for more than 35 people and have also received patients from the UAE, US and Bangladesh.

The start-up is developing custom-designed bionic arm of superhero theme that fascinates children. “They can choose hands based on their favourite characters from Spider Man to Bat Man to even Barbie.” With these superhero hands, they aim to transform their disability into strength. “Kids who were often asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ are now the centre of attention. People are fascinated, ‘wow that’s such a cool arm! How does it work?’ This change is itself a major boost,” explains Ovais Qureshi, the CEO and robotics engineer. Bionics and prosthetics can often mean the same thing to people yet they are different. The major difference is “bionics means it is electronically powered whereas prosthetic is an artificial device used to replace a missing body part”.

Lightweight and comfortable

People often complain traditional prosthetics are heavy and uncomfortable and one has to rely greatly on their good arm to propel force to make the other work. In contrast, “3D-printed arms by Bioniks are made of lighter materials and microprocessors weighing only 200 grams for a child’s prosthetic arm as compared to the 1,500 grams traditional prosthetic, making it easier to use” said the bionic engineer Anas.

How does bionic arm work?

The bionic hand works by picking up signals from a person’s muscles — the same muscles we use to make biological hand work. “Bionic arms are plug and play which means no surgery is required. You can take it off and on easily,” says Ovais. Once fitted with the prosthesis, patients usually attend brief physical therapy.

How is Bioniks changing the world of prosthetics?

What team Bioniks is doing in Pakistan is in fact a breakthrough moment in the world of prosthetics. One of the first hurdles for a person in need of prosthetics is the sheer cost which is anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000. Combining the available technology with simple solutions, Bioniks has radically brought down the cost to US$2000. “Our goal is to make bionic arms accessible to all in need especially children” says Ovais. What is even more surprising is that the start-up has provided first 10 of the 35 bionic arms free of cost. “In a country like Pakistan even $2000 is a huge amount that’s why we are working to further cut the cost” Anas informed. Over a million people in Pakistan and about 40 million people around the world are affected by limb loss with most of them unable to afford any kind of prosthesis.

Challenges and future plan

Since 2016, the start-up has remained self-funded by the two co-founders. “We are running a product development company alongside Bioniks and investing the earnings to keep it going” Ovais said. But to sustain and scale up they are actively looking for grants and funds to support research and development. In near future, Bioniks plans to develop lower body limbs and even robotic exoskeletons for those who live with spinal cord injury. “With our accessible, affordable and plug-and-play devices, we aim to make lives easier and comfortable one bionic limb at a time.”

Key Features

• Robotic based
• Brain controlled
• Lightweight
• Customisable
• Superhero themes
• Rechargeable (Work for 24 hours on single charge)

Team Bioniks at GITEX in the UAE

Bioniks was invited to the UAE’s esteemed tech event Gitex Future Stars 2018 and sponsored by Department of Health Abu Dhabi as one of the most promising health start-ups offering advanced and low-cost prosthetics. It was the second time they participated after receiving huge appreciation in the Middle East.

What is Bioniks?

Bioniks is a first-of-its-kind start-up in Pakistan founded by two engineering students, Anas Niaz and Ovais Qureshi, in 2016. Bioniks is developing 3D-printed customised bionic arm that are advanced, affordable and available in superhero themes.

What makes Bioniks unique?

Bioniks has drastically reduced the cost of bionic prosthetics to US$2000 making it cheaper and accessible to those in need. They are designing artificial limbs for both adult and children as young as five years old.

Difference between prosthetic and bionics?

A prosthetic is an artificial device to replace a missing body part, such as a limb whereas bionic is an artificial limb electronically or mechanically powered and controlled by a person’s brain.