Edmonds-Woodway grad partners with fellow MIT student to help man with MS

    E-W grad Alex Springer, left, and fellow student Vineel Chakradhar with retired professor Michael Ogg.
    Alex Springer, left, and fellow MIT student Vineel Chakradhar with retired professor Michael Ogg. (Photos courtesy of Alex Springer)

    Retired physics professor Michael Ogg has multiple sclerosis, which has made it impossible for him to use his arms and legs. But a device designed and built by MIT student Alex Springer, a 2012 Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate, and another MIT student could make the New Jersey man’s life a lot easier and safer.

    Ogg could already steer the wheelchair via a device he could move with his chin. But the device invented by the two MIT students allows Ogg to operate additional basic controls of his wheelchair — all using his voice. For example, Ogg can now turn his wheelchair on or off, switch to an indoor or outdoor speed profile and call for help, things he could not do easily before the voice control.

    Springer, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at MIT, saw a posting by Ogg on an MIT-exclusive forum where people in the community and small companies can ask for assistance. Springer partnered with Vineel Chakradhar, an MIT electrical engineering and computer science student, to create the device.

    Springer at work on the voice-assisted device.
    Springer at work on the voice-assisted device.

    Although it was a largely collaborative effort, the two students were able to use their specific talents to focus on certain aspects — Springer on the physical device and Chakradhar on the software and programming. The prototype was built in about a month, during MIT’s long winter break in January, and “seemed like a good opportunity to take our skills and apply them to a real project,” Springer said. “I feel very happy with it.”

    Although Springer is pleased with his accomplishments, he already has a few ideas for the next device. “I see a ton of opportunity for growth and development of this prototype,” he said.

    For example, he would like to Ogg to be able to differentiate between calling his personal aide and calling 911. And Springer would like to eliminate the device’s need for Internet access to operate.

    Currently, the pair is looking for people to partner with to expand their technology and hopefully benefit more people with MS and paraplegics.

    “I would love to see us take this technology to more people,” Springer said.

    Springer, who developed a reputation for asking thoughtful questions while serving as a high school student representative on the Edmonds City Council, noted that he recently had an interview with an MIT think tank, which would allow him to again become involved in local government work

    “It’s not government per se, but they do work with public policy to come up with solutions,” he said. “They use MIT to solve problems.”

    — By Natalie Covate

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