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Third-year Industrial Design graduate student Miri Berger is creating an assistive technology device that will help amputees use computers with more ease.For Miri Berger spacing out in class has not been a waste of time. Last year, in Michael McMahon’s Digital Foundation Studio she noticed that the simultaneous mousing and keyboarding required by the menu-heavy CAD software they were using, Maya, meant a lot of juggling for McMahon, who began using a prosthetic limb with a hook after a car accident left him without his lower arm. Now a third-year industrial design graduate student, Berger wondered if an assistive technology device could help those with limited dexterity.

She went home and mentioned her idea to her now husband, Aryeh Katz, who luckily for her is getting his master’s degree in electrical engineering down the street at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Together they explored what was on the market: tools that could link to brainwaves, breath, and eye movement, all of which had their drawbacks. They made a list of tasks they wanted a new device to do, for example, choose items on a screen and rotate an object. They decided they wanted to create a device that could use the natural movement still left in one arm or shoulder, for example, to control the device electronically.

The couple asked potential users what they needed and there was a resounding interest in a non-invasive device that was easy to configure to their specific needs and was low-cost. The daughter of two physicians in Israel, Berger sought out a doctor who helped them understand anatomy and movement better. They consulted with a surgeon who regularly works with amputees, doing reconnective surgeries and physical therapy. He helped them understand how remaining muscles and nerves might be harnessed.

They are now on their third prototype and have only spent $350. Berger attributes the low cost to their access to talented peers and professors who have given them feedback that has expedited the process. They are currently in the process of securing a patent, which should take about a year and cost $35,000 and until then Berger cannot divulge more about the design and use.

Through Katz’s enrollment at NYU, however, they are both now part of a yearlong competition that the NYU Stern School of Business sponsors, the $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge.

Regardless of whether they win prize money, Berger says they are getting the start-up skills they need to pull it off, from creating a business plan to pitching investors. “I am very excited about it,” said Berger. ”We are on the fast track.”

“It is another carrot for us,” she smiled, adding that they still had a lot more work to do on the device. “We want to work with a veterans' hospital. It is the perfect product for them."

Text: Bay Brown
Photo: Bay Brown

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