Some of the most innovative inventions these days are coming from the minds of babes. We told you last year about the teen in Canada who invented a flashlight powered by the human hand. Now another teen inventor is getting some well deserved attention for an even more ambitious project -- an artificial arm that can be controlled by Bluetooth-powered brainwaves.
The invention is the work of 15-year-old high-school sophomore Shiva Nathan, and he was inspired to design the prosthetic, called the Arduino Prosthesis, when his cousin in India lost both of her arms in an explosion.
"Originally I was designing a video game [with a Mindwave Mobile headset, a component of the arm], but around that time I learned about a relative of mine who lost both of her arms in an incident," he told Design News. "I was reading about the prosthetics she had, and they were very expensive and not that good. I realized I could build something better than that and decided to.
"Nathan abandoned the video game idea (which he later revisited and built) and set out to build the Arduino Prosthesis, an upper-extremity prosthetic arm with a microcontroller than can measure brainwaves registered by an electroencephalogram (EEG) in the headset, which a user wears secured to his or her head with a headband.
The Mindwave Mobile headset is a fairly inexpensive off-the-shelf EEG device that acts as a brain control interface (BCI) when connected to an Arduino microcontroller. The third key component is the servos in the arm and wrist of the prosthetic itself, which can be from 12 to 18 inches long.
Basically, the headset can recognize two mental states of the person wearing it -- attention and meditation -- and converts those into numerical values that it sends to the microcontroller to move the arm via its servos based on threshold values set by Nathan. "There are two different values for attention and meditation," he explained. The values are set between zero to 100, and if a person's brain waves supersede those values the microcontroller will move the prosthetic. "If attention exceeds 30, the prosthetic's fingers will flex. If meditation exceeds 50, the elbow will rotate."
These are the only movements the prosthetic has so far, but he is working on other models for individual finger control and wrist movement.
Nathan entered the prosthetic in two contests: the 2013 National microMedic Contest, held last year and hosted and sponsored by the US Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center, and Parallax Inc.; and the 2014 Bluetooth Breakthrough Awards held in January of this year. He won awards in both for a total of $10,000 in products and prize money.
Nathan said he has not yet been approached by a company to commercialize his prosthetic, but he does have his own, open-source plans for doing so once he achieves more advanced movements with it. "I am going to offer the schematics and programs online for free so anyone can built it themselves, but also offer prebuilt models," he said, following a popular pricing model in the open-source community that the Arduino microcontroller in the prosthetic also uses. Nathan said he could not in good conscience leave the open-source community out of the project, since he used open-source components and ideas to build the prosthesis.
Nathan's use of his prize money also shows his community spirit. He will use some of the money to help open a center to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in his hometown. The remaining prize money will go to build more models of the Arduino Prosthesis, as well as toward his fund to attend college, where he plans to study engineering, computer science, and neurology -- not necessarily together nor in that order, he said.