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WESTFORD, Massachutes — Shiva Nathan is a 15-year-old boy with one huge, global idea.
Inside his Westford home with his father, Nanda Nathan, at his side, he puts on an electroencephalogram, or EEG, headset reader and concentrates.
The device measures his brain waves, and through a computer program he designed, Shiva controls a prosthetic arm and hand, which he built himself, on the table beside him.
The teenager explains that when he is at total peace, concentrating fully, he has rigged the device so the arm waves. And as a side note, he says that for him, thinking of nothing is the perfect way to calm down and do the trick.
On a mission to help hundreds of thousands of amputees all over the world, Shiva took his passion for robotics to a whole new level last year when he developed this prosthetic that he can control with his mind.
With more design work and tweaks, he can modify the controls so his arm can do even more, including moving its wrist, wiggling its fingers and bending at the elbow.
But to take his creation one step further, Shiva says his goal is to make the technology available everywhere. He’s aiming to develop this “Arduino prosthetic” as an entire open-source project, with schematic designs anyone can download off the Internet so they can then make the product themselves with a few electronic parts available at many stores.
“I’m definitely looking to do this … especially because these prosthetics can retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars, which basically renders them all but out of reach of many residents in Third World countries and even war veterans who just returned home and are working for minimum wage,” he says.
“In the U.S. alone, there are 185,000 amputations performed each year,” he adds, “so the necessity of this device becomes huge when you think about the implications.”
Shiva’s project impressed experts so much that he won first place in the 2013 National microMedics contest this past January, in the education category. His father, who works for Nova Write, Inc., developing lasers, says that because his son is under 18, he couldn’t receive a cash prize. The contest organizers are rewarding him, instead, with $5,000 worth of electronics equipment.
Nanda Nathan notes how extremely proud he is of his son, a sophomore at Westford Academy, who joined the after-school robotics club last year as a freshman.
But it isn’t enough for Shiva simply to devote his project to helping those in need internationally — he wants to help people in his hometown, too.
At a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, to which Shiva was invited for achieving the prestigious award, he went before the town on his own to request space for an innovator’s workshop. He told selectmen if they were willing to grant some town space for other local creators, he would donate all of his winnings to the site and help others with their inventions there, too.
Selectmen Chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet thanked Shiva for his generous offer and said she thought the town could surely find some space for his endeavor.
Shiva says he has high hopes for his prosthetic arm for the future and that he plans to keep working to fine-tune it. He says his father has been instrumental in helping him develop the piece, which he built in part at the Nova Write machine shop under his father’s careful watch.
Shiva believes that while he is one of the “lucky” citizens in Westford with access to great equipment, he hopes the workshop he plans to set up in town leads people to find their greatness, too.
“I’m trying to improve their quality of life, to help them unleash their creativity, by giving them all the resources they need free of charge,” he says. “I was lucky enough to have people who care about me supply me with these resources.”