Benjamin Choi: 17-Year-Old Invents Pathbreaking Prosthetic Arm

By Shlomo Maital

Benjamin Choi & His Invention

  On Ira Flatow’s Science Friday podcast, Benjamin Choi was interviewed this week.

   This amazing young man will enter Harvard this Fall.

    Flatow observed:  “Artificial limb technology has come a long way since the first prosthetic—a big toe made of wood and leather developed in ancient Egypt.   Today’s cutting-edge robotic limbs use mind-control and even give users a sense of touch, helping them feel sensations like a warm cup of coffee or a mushy banana. Still, these state-of-the-art prosthetics often involve invasive brain surgeries and can be exorbitantly expensive.   Hearing of these issues, one teenager set out to create a solution. Seventeen-year-old Benjamin Choi has developed a non-invasive, affordable prosthetic arm. His Star Wars-inspired technology reads a user’s mind with only two sensors—one on the forehead and the other clipped to the earlobe. And he doesn’t plan on stopping there. He sees his work in artificial intelligence expanding to help ALS patients, wheelchair users, and beyond.”

   So what exactly is the advantage of Choi’s prosthesis?   Today prosthetic arms exist that are moved and operated by the brain. But this involves brain surgery, to insert electrodes in just the right spot.  Expensive, a bit risky.

    Choi had a different approach.  He places an electrode on the forehead, externally. No surgery. Then he prepared an artificial intelligence algorithm (!) that reads the massive brain signals and interprets which are directed toward moving the arms and fingers.  It is 95% accurate, he observes.  Because it learns, and learns quickly.  And this electrode communicates with the prosthetic arm and moves it. 

    Choi already has some funding from a hi-tech firm.  He is seeking more.  I look forward to tracking his career and observing how he changes the world.