High Schooler Creates Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Using 3D Printer And Artificial Intelligence

What would you do if you had a summer off before you entered your Junior year of high school?

A lot of kids would spend the time playing video games, enjoying lazy mornings, or hanging out with friends. But Benjamin Choi isn’t like most kids.

Like many people around the world, Choi found himself throwing out all of his previous plans when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. The Virginia resident ended up with a lot of unexpected free time on his hands, thanks to the pandemic.

Photo: YouTube/Benjamin Choi

Wanting something to do, Choi started thinking of things he could work on and that’s when he recalled a 60 Minutes segment he’d watched in the third grade.

The segment talked about the neural interfaces being used to control prosthetics and the brain surgery required for it to work.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Choi explained: “I was really, really amazed at the time because this technology was so impressive. 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.”

Photo: YouTube/Benjamin Choi

With previous experience in robotics and programming, Choi set out to design an improved version of the prosthetic himself.

Using a makeshift “laboratory” set up on his basement’s ping-pong table, Choi began putting in up to 16 hours each day working on his design. He wanted to create something that would be affordable, functional, and low-risk.

Using his sister’s $75 3D printer, Choi eventually created his first prototype. It took 30 hours to print and he had to use bolts and rubber bands to piece all of the elements together.

Photo: YouTube/Benjamin Choi

The prototype he created worked using brain wave data, but it would require a coded algorithm to interpret brain wave data. He knew he could write such a program, so that was his next task.

With the prototype in hand and the programming in his brain, Choi was able to secure a manufacturing grant from polySpectra, Inc., along with funding and collaboration from MIT.

After 75 design tweaks, Choi’s prosthetic design used artificial intelligence and engineering-grade materials to operate. The robotic arm uses EEG to record the brain’s electrical activity in a non-invasive way. The user simply has to put a sensor on their hand and the sensor picks on the brain’s electrical activity and translates it into a language the arm can understand and respond to.

Photo: YouTube/Benjamin Choi

“The more you use it, the more it figures out specifically how you think, what your brain wave patterns are until the accuracy really increases significantly for you over time,” he explained to Smithsonian Magazine.

Despite the potential of Choi’s product, he’s committed to keeping it affordable, and the cost to manufacture such an arm is just under $300. However, the design can also be replicated at home for around $150 using Choi’s instructions here.

Photo: YouTube/Benjamin Choi

In the instruction set, he said:

“The non-invasive control system demonstrated in this project has many advantages over current ECoG brain-controlled prostheses which require open brain surgery, and at roughly US$150 the arm represents a significant cost reduction compared to commercially available prosthetics (myoelectric and ECoG prostheses can range anywhere between US$10,000 and US$450,000).”

He added that his design “boasts excellent range of motion and functionality.”

Check out the demo videos below:

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