Lifestyles Magazine Spotlight On Bionic Boy Marin Schultz, Previous Next Einstein Winner

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Bionic Boy - How 15-year-old Marin Schultz is changing the world of prosthetics through 3D printing.

Spring 2016

Marin Schultz wants to change the world.

He’s already off to a pretty good start after winning a competition for an invention he thought could make a difference in lives of amputees across the globe: a 3D printed prosthetic arm. He has received national attention for his work and been granted funds from the competition to take his prototype to the next level. Oh, and he’s just 15.

Marin Shultz with 3D prosthetic arm

Marin Schultz - Fun FactsRaised in a musical family, Schultz is from Lethbridge, Alberta where he lives with his father, a professor of musical composition, and his mother, a classical singer. Fortunately for thousands, Schultz decided that science was his calling, instead of the arts. He started showing an interest in building things from a young age, first with models before moving on to creating his own devices. His early inventions included an LCD screen, a voice-controlled robotic rover, and a TV B-Gone. He entered his first science fair while in the fourth grade, with a project that compared the behavior of small robotic toys called Hexbug Nanos to the behavior of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. However, it was the voice-controlled rover he designed that became the basis for his most innovative invention. “Depending on how you spoke a command, it’d either move forward, backward, or turn left or right,” Schultz explains about the rover. He entered it into the regional science fair and decided he could take on more of a challenge. “The next year I wanted to go to the next step. So I made a very simple robotic hand that was controlled by EEG, or what’s basically mind control, so that the more the user who’s wearing the headset concentrates, the more the hand would close.”

This invention was spotted by a little boy at the fair while Schultz was manning his booth. “That year, a one-handed boy came up to my station at the science fair and I let him try on the headset and he was able to close the hand through concentration,” Schultz recalls. “And he became very excited and he said, ‘Dad, I can close the hand!’ That really inspired me to go into the prosthetics side of things, so ever since I’ve been working on prosthetics.”

Schultz decided, then and there, that he was going to change the world for amputees, saying he realized that he could help people and give them hope with his device. His parents, always supportive of their son’s projects, began encouraging him, though neither was surprised by his newest goal. “I think I’d been sort of leading up to it for a while,” he says, “and it was just my most recent and most ambitious project.” Schultz began working on creating a fully functional 3D printed prosthetic arm that could be created anywhere there was a 3D printer. He was fortunate enough to be able to use the printers at the University of Lethbridge, where his father works. “I used the one in the math department and the art department. They’ve been very kind to let me use them,” he says. His final product is a working arm that uses breath control to operate, created at a fraction of the cost of what it would take for a conventional prosthetic to be created. “So the way it works is the user wears a headset which contains a breath-pressure sensor and an accelerometer,” he explains.

“And what happens is the more the user applies negative pressure to the breath-pressure sensor, the more the fingers will close and when they tilt their head it turns the wrist.”

Schultz had decided that 3D printing was the best way to build the arm, rather than creating the whole apparatus out of steel. “It’s a fairly accessible technology that’s pretty easy to use, especially for prototyping devices. Also, one of the other aspects that I was looking into with it was that there could be 3D printing hubs, potentially, in developing countries. If they knew how to use a 3D printer, they could 3D print the parts for a prosthetic arm and then use that with off-the-shelf technology to create prosthetics right there. And as soon as a part would break or wear down, they could just reprint it.” He explains that almost the entire arm was made by the printer, with the exception of a few metal pins for the finger joints and some screws. He also had put in a lot of thought as to why the arm would be controlled by breath. “It sort of seemed a natural choice because at that year, at the science fair where I experimented with EEG [in his robotic rover], I realized very quickly that EEG was not reliable without implants. And even with implants, they only last for about a year or so, so it’s really not a very viable choice. And I wanted to do something that was different.”

Marin Schultz in his office, and with his computer

It was this device that won Schultz first place at the Next Einstein Competition in 2014, a nation-wide contest for people wanting to facilitate new and innovative ideas with the potential to make the world a better place. It offers the winner seed capital, educational scholarships, and more. It was Schultz’s mother who found out about the competition after seeing it advertised on TV. “She right away thought of me and we looked at it online after that, and I decided to try it out.” With his $10,000 prize money, Schultz has been able to buy his own 3D printer and patent his prosthetic arm. In the time since he won, he has been working hard to advance his device, which he says is still just a prototype and there are lots of ways to improve on it—he has already decided to work on redesigning the hand structure, making the finger design more capable of grasping objects.

At the age of 15, Schultz has already decided that he wants to carry on with his invention and develop an ambitious career in prosthetics. “Eventually, I’d like to make my prosthetics, more and more, seamlessly interact with the user and their environment so that it will become as close as possible to the original limb that the person had,” he says. “The key is not so much the interaction between the user and the prosthetic, but between the prosthetic and its environment. Because I think that we’ve already proven that the amount of control that a person can have over a gadget is very limited without the interaction process being very complicated, which obviously isn’t a good thing for everyday use. But I think the interaction needs to be between the gadget and the environment for it to be more seamless.”

The possibility of entering another field doesn’t seem to interest him, saying he feels like he is doing his part—that he has a responsibility to help others. “For me, science has always been a place of seeing a need somewhere and figuring out a way of how to help that.” He credits the little boy who visited his booth at the science fair as his inspiration, saying that since that moment, it’s been his dream to create something to help others like him. “I feel like each time I try to improve my prosthetic, I try to make it more and more world-changing. I feel like it’s something I’m always trying to aspire to.”

Marin Schultz working on his computer and demonstrating an early version of the prosthetic arm.

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