IRVINE, Calif. — Irvine High School student Nilay Mehta, who spent more than four months building a robotic arm, programming the arm's hand to replicate the movements of a human hand, has won six science fair awards for his creation, including third place at an international fair in May.
According to the Daily Pilot, the 17-year-old Indian American student spent summers constructing projects, like small moving cars made of just wood and a fan, while participating in the Irvine Public Schools Foundation's Summer Enrichment Academy. Last summer, he began researching project ideas for the science fairs he wanted to enter this year.
"I was confused about what direction I would take," Mehta told the Daily Pilot. "But I knew I wanted to do something in prosthetics. One issue I saw is that there were no lower-cost options."
During this research period, Mehta said, he discovered that high-end prosthetic arms cost upward of $35,000. Motors and 3D-printed parts used to make his arm added up to about $260.
His project, which takes the shape of a forearm and hand, operates by voice command. By speaking into a small microphone attached to the arm, the user can make the hand perform specific movements.
The hand can also simulate "pinch," "grab" and other common figurations that he determined were important as he learned about hand dexterity.
He finalized his idea in October and began 3D-printing the parts the following month. In late February, he first entered the arm in a district science fair sponsored by the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.
After taking home the blue ribbon from that event, Mehta and his project qualified in April for the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair at the Orange County fairgrounds — where he won four first-place awards.
When he applied for that fair, his application also went before a separate judging panel looking to send four students to the 2015 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Mehta was chosen and attended that fair in May. Out of the hundreds of project entries, he and his robotic arm took third place in the biomedical and health sciences category.
He said he plans to develop the arm further and enter more science fairs.