These kids are using technology to turn their prosthetics into a superhero's dream.

If you could give yourself a superpower or a superhero-style gadget, what would it be?

I always say I'd want to be a shapeshifter or have a car that could shape-shift à la the Batmobile because I like pretending to be other things.

It's a fun question to ask friends because it gets everyone to think outside the box and have a good time being creative.


Now consider this: What if you could take those ideas and actually make them functional? (Who else's inner comic nerd just perked up?)

That's the idea behind Superhero Boost — a weeklong workshop where disabled kids get to create their own superpowers in the form of wearable devices.

One kid's light-up prosthetic. All photos by Autodesk/Blue Bergen, except where noted, used with permission.

The workshop was launched in 2014 by Kate Ganim and has since turned into an intensive series of workshops that help kids harness their inner designer and/or engineer.

"We aim to create a space for kids to celebrate the bodies that they're in and to re-think their disability as a super-ability," writes Ganim in an email.

However, she stresses that it's not about trying to "fix" these kids. Many of them were born without a limb or part of a limb; because those were never there in the first place, the kids don't feel like they're missing anything. Instead, it's about helping them create something cool and unique that they're proud to show off.

"Why does it have to be a hand, when it could be literally anything and it could do things that a natural hand isn't able to do?" asks Ganim.

What's more, the kids get to make their body modification using state-of-the-art technology like 3D modeling, robotics, and Google artificial intelligence technology — with the help of trained experts, of course.

Since 15-year-old Sydney's a competitive BMX rider, she updated her arm prosthetic so that it lights up to intimidate competitors.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Howard.

This was her second year doing the workshop, and since she's now quite proficient in 3D printing, she was asked to be a mentor as well as an inventor during the June Superhero Boost workshop in San Francisco.

"The thing that I like as a parent is that they want kids to think on their own and be themselves," says Audrey, Sydney's mom.

Sydney's currently ranked seventh in her state in her age group for BMX, and her handle bar was custom made to support her prosthetic, so she wanted to make it stand out in a major way. When she learned Google engineers were going to be at the workshop teaching kids how to incorporate AI, she knew that had to be part of her design.

Thanks to help from Google engineers and staff from both Superhero Boost and Autodesk, the company that held the workshop and offered up their plethora of tech tools, she got her modification to work by the end of the week.

"The [engineers] are like little kids," remarks Sydney. "It's quite fun. They get so excited."

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Kenzie created something entirely different — a robotic arm sleeve with a glowing gem that even Iron Man would envy.

Kenzie actually came up with the idea at a one-day workshop she did with Superhero Boost in Boston, near her hometown, but she really got to flesh it out during the most recent weeklong workshop in San Francisco.

While in the end, it wasn't totally what she'd envisioned, it still looked pretty darn cool.

"I was like, 'It's going to have to shoot something or do something,'" says Kenzie. "It ended up just lighting up. It did a thing — not a fantastic thing — but it did something."

She devised the whole modification on the computer in something called Tinkercad, a computer-aided design (CAD) program that allows you to 3D print your creations. Kenzie had to do some futzing with the voice control aspect of the project, which initially failed to function correctly, but eventually she and her engineer helper figured it out.

This experience is about much more than making awesome gadgets, though: It's also helping these kids see that they really can do anything they set their minds to with technology at their disposal.

Kenzie and Sydney working at the Superhero Boost workshop.

For example, Kenzie was blown away by a wheelchair booster that her friend Anaiss made — it literally lifts her wheelchair higher, which is not only super cool, but also legitimately useful.

These kids are also taking skills with them that will likely be instrumental in whatever career they end up choosing.

Kenzie, for one, is looking to go into toy design, and thanks to the workshop, she's already connecting the dots to that dream. "One lady at the end was talking about how she's going to be working on this augmented reality project, and that she wanted to work with me on that," she says.

What's more, everyone who participated gets to keep working with a professional designer on their prototypes to make them as cool as they can be.

But while all these tools are great, the real superpowers come from the kids themselves.

The kids from the most recent Superhero Boost workshop.

"By nature, these kids are incredibly creative and determined," writes Gamin. "They're having to adapt every day to an environment that was not designed for them, and it's on them to figure out how to adapt."

However, since the most formidable beings are the most adaptable, there's no doubt these kids are going to be unstoppable.

Heroes

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

Keep Reading Show less
Packard Foundation
True

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

truth
True