A 17-year-old in Virginia is making headlines for creating an affordable prosthetic arm that can be controlled by the mind.
Benjamin Choi, now a senior at Potomac High School, developed the first version of the robotic arm in 2020 using his sister’s $75 3D printer and some fishing line.
Choi was then in 10th grade. He was set to spend his summer researching aluminum fuels in a lab that shut down due to COVID-19.
The young inventor wound up in his home’s basement. He set up a makeshift lab using a ping pong table and worked there for up to 16 hours a day.
Choi said he was inspired by a “60 Minutes” documentary he watched in third grade which featured mind-controlled prosthesis.
“I was really, really amazed at the time because this technology was so impressive,” Choi told Smithsonian Magazine. “But I was also alarmed that they require this really risky open brain surgery. And they’re so inaccessible, costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The initial version of Choi’s invention worked using brain wave data and head gestures. He then posted an instructional video for others who want to build their own.
Today, Choi’s prosthetic arm is made with engineering-grade materials and run by artificial intelligence that interprets brain waves with 95% accuracy. It can also withstand weights of up to four tons (4,000 kilograms).
The invention, which costs only $300 to create, has brought Choi multiple recognitions. This year, he qualified in the top 40 of the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the most elite science and math competition for high school seniors in the country.
Last year, he was chosen as a Simons Fellow at Stony Brook University, where he worked on his machine learning algorithm. He also received funding from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Choi has also won awards in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, the Microsoft Imagine Cup and the National At-Home STEM Competition, according to Smithsonian. In 2020, he also won funding from PolySpectra, a firm that manufactures 3D printed materials.
Choi is also his school’s student body president. Additionally, he is a nationally-ranked squash player, a published short story author and a competitive violinist.
So far, Choi has acquired two provisional patents for his invention. He plans to study engineering in college.