Gaining a Handle on COVID-19

A new invention from NYU Abu Dhabi could help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

A team at NYUAD developed a 3D-printed system capable of hands-free door opening that could have further implications than simply reducing coronavirus exposure to individuals within a building. 

By implementing their system on doors within organizations, schools, hospitals, and other public places, the inventors aim to minimize the spread of the virus through touching commonly contaminated surfaces like door handles.

Using 3D printed models, the team invented a mechanical door opener that leverages the use of an individual's feet to seamlessly open doors. The mechanism is easily installed, needs no electricity to operate, and is already in pilot phase throughout the Experimental Research Building (ERB) at NYU Abu Dhabi. 

“The system can be easily installed on any existing door without the need of complicated drilling work or electrical connections” said Mohammad Qasaimeh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering. “We’ve been manufacturing the parts with the help of Dr Oraib AlKheetan from the Core Technology Platforms here at NYUAD”, he added.

Mohammad Qasaimeh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering.

The invention began as a simple in-house alternative to the incessant use of hand sanitizer before and after using door handles at the outbreak of COVID-19.

The team began brainstorming designs and trying out prototypes developed in-house as a solution to the problem.

The pilot model includes no metal components, requires no drilling to install, and can be 3D printed — aspects that make it easy to install.

“That time was full of uncertainty and we were worried from the possibility of catching the virus from touching surfaces like door handles”, said Bisan Samara, research assistant with Qasaimeh’s lab. “We wanted to create a safer option for the community to access labs and offices. No commercially available product could fit our needs, so we decided to make our own”. 

The system is now implemented and tested on nine doors in the ERB.

“It does feel safer to avoid any hand contact, especially on doors that are used daily, and now more so because there is some testing on coronavirus samples happening in the building,” Samara said. 

The mechanism was born from a need to try to avoid exposure to the coronavirus but has much wider implications. Samara said she found it quite handy when carrying two handfuls of lab gear and going from room to room. 

But she adds that it could also be a great mechanism for those without complete use of their arms as a convenient way of empowering independent mobilization.  

“Feedback from the users has been encouraging so far, people seem to find it a safer alternative to open doors with feet instead of hands” Qasaimeh said, “we are discussing a possible patent filing to protect the invention,” he added.

The team will continue to develop models and will likely install more around buildings in NYUAD as a way to further stem the spread of the coronavirus.