Yaya Lu, a 16-year-old resident of Hobart, Australia, has developed a voice-controlled system for a wheelchair, which could benefit quadriplegics. For this invention, the teenager, who has Chinese ancestry, won the Gold CREST Award, a top science award for students given by the Commonwealth Science Agency CSIRO.
She recently returned from presenting her research paper about her invention at the 5th Biomedical Engineering International Conference in Bangkok, which normally accepts only papers from post-graduate students or university lecturers. Her Thailand trip, in which she was accompanied by her mother, was sponsored by Google.
CSIRO accepts only original ideas and more than 100 hours of work. Her victory was the result of her 60-page report which included prototypes and a video, as well as participation in a verbal examination.
Yaya used a combination of long and short sounds of dah and dit to make the wheelchair follow eight commands, namely moving forward, backward, spin clockwise and counterclockwise, move sideways left and right, stop and to toggle the on and off switch of the system.
Here is a video of her prototype, using Lego NXT MindStorms pieces.
The teen said she initiated the project in 2012 after she heard about a complete quadriplegic from northern Tasmania who couldn't move any part of his body below the neck.
"So I kind of thought I could develop a system that could help a quadriplegic like him gain more independence in their daily life," Brisbane Times quoted the young scientist.
She said her invention is not based on voice recognition which takes a long time to work correctly, costs a lot of money and a lot of computing power.
Yaya has some genes to thank for her scientific skill since her mother, Yin, is an information systems lecturer at the University of Tasmania. The teen was also mentored by her neighbour, Dr Graeme Faulkner, a former university lecturer with a PhD in artificial intelligence.
She said in her Web site that one of her hobbies is developing robots. She also writes and speaks the Mandarin language.