Tunisian AI expertise to benefit Africans in need of artificial limbs

The lightweight, 3D-printed artificial hands come with different functions depending on the task the patient wants to perform. (Supplied)
The lightweight, 3D-printed artificial hands come with different functions depending on the task the patient wants to perform. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 May 2021

Tunisian AI expertise to benefit Africans in need of artificial limbs

The lightweight, 3D-printed artificial hands come with different functions depending on the task the patient wants to perform. (Supplied)
  • Dismayed by the lack of affordable prosthetics, Mohamed Dhaouafi created his own range of low-cost artificial hands
  • High cost and limited availability mean just 5 percent of people in the developing world who need prosthetics have artificial limbs 

TUNIS: Mohamed Dhaouafi began researching prosthetics in 2016 as part of a university project. He swiftly realized there was a lack of readily available and affordable prosthetics, with artificial hands costing up to $50,000.

After finishing his studies, Dhaouafi, 28, ran a startup incubator ZETA HUB at a private university to earn an income while continuing his work on prosthetics. He launched CURE Bionics in late 2018, going full time with his Sousse-based startup in 2019.

Having made multiple prototypes to perfect the design of its prosthetics, the five-strong team decided to launch its products commercially in the first half of 2021.

“We want people using our prosthetics to be satisfied and use it in a practical way — we want our patients to be able to rely on our prosthetics and to guarantee they will last,” said Dhaouafi, CURE’s CEO.

“We’re making some final improvements and will then launch a pilot. If that goes well, we’ll quickly launch in Tunisia before expanding abroad. Tunisia is a tough market, so if we succeed here, we can succeed elsewhere.”

In the developing world, only 5 percent of the 40 million people needing prosthetics have artificial limbs due to the high cost and limited availability. Among those who have received them, nearly 70 percent are dissatisfied and 52 percent reject them, a 2019 University of Nebraska study found.

“People generally feel comfortable wearing a prosthetic, but controlling it is very difficult and complicated. Ours are easy to use since they’re very intuitive,” said Dhaouafi.




Mohamed Dhaouafi, CEO of CURE Bionics. (Supplied)

The lightweight, 3D-printed artificial hands come with different functions depending on the task the patient wants to perform. The brain tells the limbs to move via electric signals transmitted through the nerves, instructing the appropriate muscles to contract or relax.

CURE’s prosthetic hands deploy artificial intelligence (AI) to read these signals via sensors placed on the skin, which means no surgery is necessary to fit them.

“People suffer different traumas in losing their hands. Some were born without hands, so they never experienced what it means to open and close a hand — their muscle signals will be either weak or absent,” said Dhaouafi.

“These differences can be problematic, so the AI algorithm learns and identifies what the muscle signal is about. By using AI, we can reduce the need for doctors and engineers in teaching patients how to use a prosthetic. If they have to intervene with every patient, we cannot scale the product fast. So we made the algorithm smarter.”

CURE’s patients will master the necessary movements through conscious repetition, imprinting them into their subconscious mind so that they can act without thinking — much like how one learns to ride a bike. To help its patients, CURE has developed a virtual reality training program.

“In the virtual environment, they can manipulate the virtual hand like a prosthetic, but in a gamified way to master the exercises while having fun,” Dhaouafi said. “It’s intuitive training. The doctor can provide therapy remotely without the patient having to visit them in person.”

In developing countries, large swathes of the population lack reliable electricity. Consequently, prosthetics users may be unable to recharge the batteries in their artificial limbs, so CURE’s products will come with a solar-powered wireless charger.

“By adding this feature, we can help more people,” said Dhaouafi.

The prosthetic hands come in various predefined sizes, while the socket is fully customizable. They will likely cost between $2,500-3,000, depending on the specific features the patient requests.

Outside Tunisia, CURE will sell its products through third parties that will conduct product measurement, 3D printing, assembly, fitting, and after-sales service.

“That’s the best way for us to scale fast,” Dhaouafi said.

The company is in negotiations with potential partners across Africa, with priority markets including Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, and Angola.

“I visited many of these countries and know people there,” said Dhaouafi, who has participated in non-profit programs in the target markets. “It’s about finding the right partner.”

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* The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.


EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 13 min 25 sec ago

EU’s Borell says Iran nuclear talks moving to crucial stage

Josep Borrell is chairing the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. (AFP/File Photo)
  • “I am optimistic,” EU foreign affairs chief said

VIENNA: Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union's top diplomat said on Monday.

US officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.

“I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.

“But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna,” he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from US, EU and UN sanctions.

Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.

“However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” Maas said in Brussels. 


Hamas claims rocket attacks on Israel after clashes in Jerusalem

Hamas claims rocket attacks on Israel after clashes in Jerusalem
Updated 16 min 44 sec ago

Hamas claims rocket attacks on Israel after clashes in Jerusalem

Hamas claims rocket attacks on Israel after clashes in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Hamas said it fired rockets at Israel on Monday, triggering warning sirens in Jerusalem and near the Gaza border, in an apparent response by the militant group to the injury of more than 300 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli police outside al Aqsa mosque.
Hamas, an Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, had given Israel an ultimatum to stand down its forces at al Aqsa and another Jerusalem flashpoint by 6 p.m. (1500 GMT).
Minutes after the deadline passed, sirens blared in Jerusalem and several explosions were heard. Hamas claimed responsibility, and there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
After Hamas, which last fought a war with Israel in 2014, issued the ultimatum, Israel's military announced it was suspending for a day a major exercise, citing possible "escalation scenarios".
Earlier, as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war, police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at hundreds of Palestinians who hurled rocks at them at al Aqsa. The violence had died down by the time Hamas issued the ultimatum.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said at least 305 Palestinians were injured, and 228 of them were taken to hospital, in the skirmishes at al Aqsa, situated in a compound holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. It said several were in critical condition. Police said 21 officers were injured.
Recent clashes in Jerusalem have raised international concern about wider conflict, and the White House called on Israel to ensure calm during "Jerusalem Day".


Tensions mount on Gaza border with Israel

Tensions mount on Gaza border with Israel
Updated 10 May 2021

Tensions mount on Gaza border with Israel

Tensions mount on Gaza border with Israel
  • A number of rockets fired from Gaza toward Israeli towns on Sunday evening and Monday morning were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system
  • The Israeli army responded to the attacks by bombing sites belonging to Palestinian factions in Gaza

GAZA CITY: Tensions on the Gaza Strip border with Israel on Monday continued to mount following recent violent confrontations at Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

A number of rockets fired from Gaza toward Israeli towns on Sunday evening and Monday morning were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system and no injuries were reported. Incendiary balloons were also launched toward Israel.

The Israeli army responded to the attacks by bombing sites belonging to Palestinian factions in Gaza.

Night demonstrations also resumed along the border in support of several Palestinian families threatened with eviction from their homes in Jerusalem and as part of the so-called March of Return protests that have gone on for two years.

Mohammed Deif, commander-in-chief of the Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas in Gaza, recently warned that the resistance would “not stand idly by” and that Israel would “pay a dear price” if it continued with its actions against Palestinians.

He said the brigades’ leadership was “watching what is happening (in Sheikh Jarrah) closely” while saluting “our steadfast people in occupied Jerusalem.”

Deif has been on Israel’s wanted list for more than two decades and has been accused of being behind numerous military operations against the country. He has survived several assassination attempts, the most recent being during the 2014 Gaza war.

Jerusalem has recently witnessed violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors over eviction plans to give Palestinian homes in the city suburb to Jewish settlers.

In East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, Palestinians feel an increasing threat from settlers who have sought to expand the Jewish presence there by buying properties, constructing new buildings, and through court-ordered evictions.

Meanwhile, Israel has suspended Palestinian fishing rights off Gaza over the incendiary balloon attacks which it blamed on Hamas.

A statement on Sunday issued by the coordinator of the Israeli government’s activities in the Palestinian Territories, said: “It has been decided to close the fishing distance in the Gaza Strip, and the decision will take effect immediately, and will continue until further notice.”

On Monday, the Israelis also announced the complete closure of the Erez border crossing. Israeli Army Radio said: “Hamas in Gaza is making an extensive effort to ignite the situation. On the other hand, we are ready on all fronts. I advise them not to give us a try.”

Speaking at a recent Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I tell the terrorist organizations that Israel will respond forcefully to any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.”

Mustafa Ibrahim, a columnist, told Arab News that the current escalation in tensions was calculated both by Hamas and Israel.

He said: “At this stage, it seems that Hamas is well aware that the conditions are not conducive to escalating toward a military confrontation with Gaza. Therefore, the rockets fired from Gaza have a short range ... and also the current Israeli response to them does not indicate that it wants to expand the confrontation.

“The somewhat positive reactions from the international community toward Jerusalem seem to have curbed the harsh reaction by the Palestinian factions in Gaza.

“Any developments in Jerusalem and the West Bank may always push Gaza into a military confrontation that may be limited and may be wide. But it seems that we have not reached a broad confrontation this time,” he added.


UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya
Updated 10 May 2021

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

CAIRO: At least five people, including a woman and a child, drowned when a boat carrying at least 45 Europe-bound migrants capsized off Libya, a UN migration official said on Monday. The wreck was the latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, said the wreck took place on Sunday. She said fishermen rescued 40 migrants and returned them to the shore.
Msehli said the boat was among nine others carrying more than 700 migrants intercepted Sunday by the Libyan coast guard off the coast of the North African country.
The intercepted migrants were taken to overcrowded detention centers, where the UN migration agency fears more threats to their lives and violations of their rights, she said.
There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya in recent weeks, with smugglers taking advantage of the calm sea and warm weather.
Federico Soda, head of IOM in Libya, said he was “extremely concerned” about the spike in migrant departure from Libya and “the continuous loss of life.”
“The situation cannot be ignored, and states must live up to their responsibilities and redeploy search and rescue vessels,” he tweeted.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Earlier this month, at least 11 Europe-bound migrants drowned when a rubber dinghy carrying two dozen people capsized off Libya. That followed another tragedy in April where at least 130 migrants were presumed dead, in one of the deadliest maritime tragedies in years along the busy route.
Around 7,000 Europe-bound migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year, according to the IOM’s tally.
Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Europe either on their own or after being rescued at sea.
Thousands have drowned along the way. Others were intercepted and returned to Libya to be left at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers that lack adequate food and water, according to rights groups.


UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday
Updated 10 May 2021

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday
  • Part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will bar entry for travelers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka starting Wednesday, as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority said on its website on Monday.

“Flights between the four countries will continue to allow the transport of passengers from the UAE to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka,” it said.

The UAE announced last month a ban on entry from India to guard against the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant of the coronavirus.