Student Wins Awards for Bluetooth-controlled Prosthetic Hand

The world is full of stories about young people changing the world for the better, but here’s one that shows how one young man’s innovation and dedication is about to make a huge impact on many people’s lives.

Shiva Nathan, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Westford, MA who is currently taking pre-college courses at MIT to improve his electrical engineering skills, has gained international attention for his design of an artificial arm that can be controlled by signals from a person’s brain that are transmitted over a wireless Bluetooth device.

When Nathan was asked what inspired him to build such a breakthrough device, he recounts the story of a family member in India who lost both her arms in an accident saying, “I decided to take matters into my own hands and design a prosthetic.”

While his prototype is currently limited to a simple side-to-side motion while fingers flex and the responses to the controls are sometimes a bit uneven, the potential is staggering and could signal a true breakthrough in empowering amputees and other disabled persons to live a more productive and self-sufficient life.

Jay Schnitzer, director of biomedical science at Mitre Corp. in Bedford, a defense contractor, called Nathan’s prototype “pretty remarkable.”  He added, “It’s definitely going in the right direction, it’s addressing a real problem, and it’s a solution that’s really exciting.”

The Mobile World Congress met in Barcelona, Spain last month and awarded Nathan $5,000 for “innovative use of Bluetooth technology.”  Last year, he also entered his prototype for a bluetooth-controlled prosthetic hand in a health care technology contest sponsored by the U.S. Army and Carnegie Melon University and walked away with a prize consisting of $5,000 worth of electronics gear. He hopes to someday work on robots at Google Inc. or iRobot Corp. in Bedford, or perhaps launch a prosthetics business. Until then, he plans to use the equipment he won in the Army contest to set up a science, engineering, and math education center in Westford.

Nathan is now working on an upgraded arm with fingers that he will be able to control with a glance. Using Pupil, an eye-tracking technology developed at MIT, he hopes to figure out how to move individual fingers simply by looking at them.

As for the $5,000 cash prize, Nathan is going to give some of the money to charity. But because he is worried about his grades, most of the remaining money is going into a college fund “for those scholarships I don’t get.”

The future looks very bright for this young inventor.



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