Science fair projects and teenagers seem to have become solid sources of full-fledged tech progress. Uday Parshionikar told us how his son’s high school project led to the creation a computer mouse controlled by face movements; several high school students at NuVu “innovation school” in Cambridge, Mass. may be onto the cure for seasonal affective disorder; and of course a nineteen-year-old in Mumbai recently built a whole car just by watching YouTube. Now, a team out of Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colorado, has managed to parlay its third-place science fair entry into a startup that has already been roped in by a local accelerator. They’re restoring movement to the paralyzed through the ingenious application of electronic stimulation in a wearable coupled with voice recognition technology.
Myonic Move is a device created by Myonic Technologies, a company that is run by four high school students: Ben Saltz, (CIO), Nate Petersen (CTO) Nick Titus (CEO) and Sam Everett (CFO). The wearable currently focuses on helping paralyzed individuals regain movement in their arms. The Move allows users to raise their shoulders, bend elbows, and close and open hands, down to the level of individual fingers.
“The device uses electrodes coming out of it that stick to the patient’s arm, stimulating any muscle group,” CFO Sam Everett told me. Using voice commands, patients can trigger a series of muscle contractions. The command “grab” allows the user to close their hand, for example. Realizing that some users may not have full control over their faculties of speech due to stroke or traumatic brain injury, the team has been experimenting with alternate modes of input. “We’ve designed the Myonic Move to be very small and easy to put on, and it also has a flexible input system, meaning that the patient can control the device in different ways such as voice control, brain control, or wiggling their toes,” Everett explains.
In fact, the brain-control unit is fully functional and has been tested with paralyzed users.
The team was inspired to create the Myonic Move after observing a market filled with products that didn’t fully cater to the needs of its users. “They’re expensive, clunky, and not effective in mobilizing the user,” Everett says of existing assistive technology designed to aid paralyzed individuals. “That’s why when looking for inspiration we looked to tech from different fields, not already being applied to paralysis.”
In the process, Myonic arrived at a product that’s not just more effective than its competition, but also significantly cheaper. Everett explains that as a result of working on a shoestring budget out of their school’s engineering lab, fully functioning prototypes were built for as little as $100. “This means when we do go to market, around 2018, we won’t necessarily need to go through the traditional distribution routes set in place,” Everett says. The startup plans on selling the Myonic Move direct-to-consumer initially, and then through more conventional distribution routes.
While the high-schoolers were able handle the technology side of things, it was all the other legwork that proved more tedious. Everett tells me that “learning how to navigate the FDA approval process, how to go about manufacturing a product, and fundraising” were some of the most significant challenges they faced outside of the R&D process.
Thankfully for Myonic Technologies, Colorado’s BoomTown Accelerator stepped in to provide guidance and mentorship. “The Boomtown Accelerator was incredible, and we would still just be a bunch of kids with an idea if it wasn’t for them,” Everett says. “The program helped us develop our network and get exposure, and the classes offered at Boomtown on everything from marketing to finance to business modeling really helped us bring Myonic to the next level.”
Now that they’ve navigated the choppy waters of creating a product and setting up operations, the problems they face are more universal. “Right now, our biggest challenge is the fact that we are still in school,” Everett confesses. That being said, if you turn in some late assignments, being occupied “forever changing millions of lives” should probably be an acceptable excuse.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.