What This 15 Year Old Has Built Could Completely Change The Lives Of Disabled People!
To people who rely upon a prosthetic limb in their day-to-day life, prosthetic limb becomes as much a part of their body as their missing limb was or would have been. Unfortunately, their prosthesis is often quite limited in their functionality. Despite the best efforts of contemporary medical technology, prosthesis simply can’t function in the same ways as regular limbs. That’s where 15-year-old Shiva Nathan’s invention comes in. Nathan’s new, mind-controlled robotic arm is setting the stage for a revolution in the field of prosthetics.
Nathan first came up with the idea when he was even younger. In 2012, he learned that a relative in India has lost both forearms in an accident that occurred years before. His desire to help her led to an interest in prosthesis and robotics, and he spent months studying both fields. He even went so far as to build some of his own components, such as fingers, which laid the groundwork for his invention. For a time he had nearly lost interest in the subject, but an inspiring and ingenious idea led him to continue his pursuit.
The breakthrough came when he thought to connect his NeuroSky MindWave Mobile headset to a Bluetooth receiver. The MindWave Mobile headset is a device that uses brain wave patterns in ways that allow users to control software and play games using only their thoughts. Nathan modified the headset to allow it to connect to the receiver, and connected that receiver to robotic components. In doing so, he found that he could control them with the output from the headset. He invented a way to control a robotic arm using only his thoughts.
The MindWave Mobile headset uses an EEG (electroencephalograph) electrode that sits just above the user’s eye, measuring power spectrums and outputting the data it collects. By connecting the headset’s output to a Bluetooth receiver, Nathan created a way for that output to remotely interact with the software that controls the robotic arm. The robotic arm then interprets that output and executes the commands associated with the information it has received.
For now, Nathan’s robotic arm is limited in its functionality. In its normal state, the elbow lifts up and the arm waves back and forth. Once it detects certain input, it stops waving and flexes its robotic fingers. Though it may be in its early stages, it shows great promise. While other mind-controlled robotic prosthesis do exist, they are mostly limited to research laboratories, and they are prohibitively expensive. Nathan’s creative use of Bluetooth’s wireless technology and other readily available and relatively inexpensive components helps to set his invention apart from others of its kind.
Nathan’s robotic arm gives hope that advanced versions of mind-controlled prosthesis will someday be available through regular commercial channels. For people who need such devices, this sort of unlimited availability would drastically improve their situations. Instead of hoping to be part of a test program or taking on enormous and unending medical bills (almost all prosthetics require regular maintenance or replacement), they would be able to purchase their prosthesis just as they would a wheelchair or other medical equipment.
Nathan’s invention could improve thousands of lives. Even if his prosthetic does not go on to achieve ubiquitous availability and commercial success, his ideas are making people think. In fact, he has won a $5,000 reward at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for his innovative use of Bluetooth radio technology, as well as $5,000 worth of electronics in a health care technology contest that was sponsored by the Army and Carnegie Mellon University.
The hope is that researchers will take note of Nathan’s achievements, and will use them as inspiration to find other original ways of improving prosthetic devices while lowering their overall cost and increasing their availability. For every cutting-edge prosthetic limb that comes out of a lab, there are thousands of people who cannot hope to own such technologies. Innovations like Nathan’s mind-controlled robotic arm mean that such people can hold on to the hope that they can one day improve their lives with highly advanced prosthetics.
Nathan is currently working with the MIT eye-tracking technology called Pupil, and he hopes to create a means of controlling the arm’s individual fingers by simply looking at them. Ultimately, he aims to work for companies like Google Robotics or the Bedford-based iRobot Corp, perhaps even starting his own prosthetics business. With such a glowing accomplishment already on his résumé, there is no doubt that he will make both his own dreams, and the dreams of others, come true.