How Can Thought-Controlled Prosthetic Limbs Become More Affordable?

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
High schooler Benjamin Choi developed a non-invasive, thought-controlled arm that costs just $300 to manufacture.
High schooler Benjamin Choi developed a non-invasive, thought-controlled arm that costs just $300 to manufacture.

For most high school students, keeping up with the demands of remote learning was enough of a challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not for Benjamin Choi, then a sophomore at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. Choi decided to use all of the time at home to design – what else? – an affordable, non-invasive thought-controlled prosthetic arm.

Choi had long been fascinated by the idea of controlling prosthetics with one's mind, ever since watching a 60 Minutes report as an elementary school student. However, amazing as it was, that particular device required brain surgery to implant sensors into the patient's motor cortex. It also had a price tag of hundreds of thousands of dollars, putting it far out of reach for most people in need of a prosthetic limb.

Intrigued by the idea of creating an affordable alternative that didn't require brain surgery, Choi set up a lab/workshop on the ping pong table in his basement and went to work. He designed and built a prosthetic arm, created in pieces with his sister's 3-D printer. Rather than having to be implanted, Choi's device was controlled through head gestures and brain wave data from EEG sensors placed on the head and interpreted by an AI algorithm that Choi devised himself. This algorithm, which involves 23,000 lines of codes, performs with a mean accuracy of 95%. It learns from the user's brain patterns to become more accurate over time. It took 75 iterations, but Choi eventually produced a working device that could be manufactured for only $300 – a tiny fraction of the cost of even a basic prosthetic limb.

Learn more about Benjamin Choi's creation:

  • There is certainly a demand for Choi's invention. There are around two million people in the United States alone living with the loss of a limb. The World Health Organization estimates that only 10% of people around the world who need a prosthetic have access to one.

  • This fall, Choi will head to Harvard to study engineering. He will continue working on the prosthetic arm, which he hopes to test in clinical trials in the near future. He already has two provisional patents.

  • When the incredibly impressive Benjamin Choi isn't focused on robotics and machine learning he is also a nationally-ranked squash player, acclaimed violinist, quiz bowl captain, and published author. He was also student body president at the Potomac School.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for wiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for wiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education.

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    • High schooler Benjamin Choi developed a non-invasive, thought-controlled arm that costs just $300 to manufacture.
      High schooler Benjamin Choi developed a non-invasive, thought-controlled arm that costs just $300 to manufacture.