Remember a few months ago when I said I was rooting for Ann Makosinski, the Canadian tenth grader who invented the body heat powered flashlight to win the International Google Science Fair? I may have spoken too soon—I hadn’t seen Charalampos Ioannou’s project yet.
Ioannou, who is from Greece, was hanging out with his grandma one day and noticed she had trouble grasping the remote control. She lacked in hand strength, grip, and manual dexterity, and couldn’t make the damn device do what she wanted (those of us with normal hand strength also have this problem, but instead of using a device to assist us, we usually just throw the remote across the room). Ioannou wanted to find a way to help her and other people with hand-related disabilities, so he came up with this wicked exoskeleton glove.
The metallic glove has pressure sensors that detect the movements of the user as he or she attempts to grasp or manipulate an object. Those sensors are hooked up to a processing system that uses what Ioannou calls a “simple” algorithm that controls the servo motors which amplify kinetic stimulus and distribute the appropriate amount of force for the task at hand. For example, the wearer wants to hold an egg more gently that the remote. The glove can even help with more physical tasks, such as tightening or loosening screws, or even hammering. The mechanics of the glove are explained in greater detail here.
Ioannou is a bit of a renaissance man…er, kid. He’s a mountain biker and earns money to fund his projects by DJing. At age 9 he started building his own workshop. That’s around the same time he started watching TED talks and other online lectures to try and fill in the gaps of his own educational system, which is a little light on the engineering.
While Ioannou had plenty of challenges along the way, such as external errors, system failures, and the glove heating up a little too much with use, he was able to work out the bugs and become a Google global finalist in the 17-18 age range. He was also the youngest speaker at TEDx Athens in 2012. Before long he plans to start an online campaign to sell his device to individuals and businesses around the world.
The winner of the Google International Science Far will be announced on Monday, September 23. I’d love to see a tag-team victory—someone wearing Ioannou’s glove could better handle Makosinski’s flashlight, after all—but something tells me Google isn’t about ties. Win or lose, all of these kids have done more in their short time on Earth than many people have over their entire lives. And I bet we’ll see more than one Kickstarter campaign from these budding scientists in the next year. Get your wallet ready to start investing—the exoskeleton glove can help.