1998 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize Winner
|Photo by Barry Hertherington
Adapting robots to a variety of environments—from the operating
room to theme parks to Space—Akhil Madhani has flourished
on the frontier of Artificial Intelligence. Madhani was awarded
the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 1998 for his clever developments
in robotics, such as the Black Falcon—a tool for minimally
As a result of working in the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and
observing his father, an orthopedic surgeon, perform an arthroscopy,
Madhani invented the Black Falcon—a robot with a long cylindrical
arm, a small wrist and tongs to facilitate minimally invasive surgery.
Operated by a joystick, the device enables a surgeon to make a one-inch
incision with its tongs to manipulate tissue, suture and tie knots—comparatively
reducing the size of the cut and patient trauma. Still undergoing
testing, Madhani's breakthrough is a vital evolution of surgical
procedures that have had limited modifications since their development
many years ago.
Madhani's earlier inventions include the Talon—a robotic
wrist and hand system for remote autonomous exploration, developed
for a NASA-sponsored program. This creation stemmed from Madhani's
"WAM", a robotic whole arm manipulator that can throw
and catch a ball.
In addition, Madhani co-developed a robotic head/eye system to
study human and computer vision as well as new software tools to
design multi-limb mobile robots for hazardous clean-up and rescue
Growing up in Seattle, WA, Madhani was a child who enjoyed building
and designing toy cars, boats, planes and rockets. He received his
B.S. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, followed by his
M.S. and Ph.D. (1997) in mechanical engineering from MIT. Sharing
his passion for robotics with younger kids, Madhani has served as
a design instructor with the MIT MITE²S (Minority Introduction
to Engineering and Science) summer program, which challenges high
school teams to build a device to complete a goal-oriented task.
Upon graduating, Madhani accepted employment at Walt Disney's Imagineering
Research and Development Laboratories in Glendale, CA, where his
first project was to develop an experimental 11,000 pound walking
machine with a team of engineers. According to Madhani, "The
Lemelson-MIT prize reinforced my desire to build and create, and
gave me further confidence to pursue risky projects—to know
that there is payoff for all the years of work."