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MIT Student Receives Lemelson-MIT Student Prize
for Invention and Innovation

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (February 11, 1998) — The 1998 recipient of the annual $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for inventiveness, graduate student Akhil Madhani of Seattle, Washington, was announced today at a press briefing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Madhani, 29, won the award, open only to MIT graduating seniors and graduate students, for his demonstrated inventive ability and for the visionary qualities of his projects. Madhani has researched and implemented robotics in fields as varied as minimally invasive surgery (MIS) to NASA's space programs while working with Dr. J. Kenneth Salisbury of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Madhani personifies the "inventor role model" the Lemelson-MIT Program seeks to honor. His work as a design instructor with the MIT MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science), a pre-college summer program for talented, underrepresented minority students, has inspired future inventors through the innovative MITES design contest which challenges teams of high school students to build original devices to accomplish assigned tasks. As an inventor, Madhani has five patents pending: his inventions include the Talon, a robotic wrist-and-hand system; a robotic head/eye system to study human and computer vision (in collaboration with fellow classmates Krisztina Holly and Javier Gonzales Zugasti ); and new software tools to design multi-limb mobile robots for hazardous clean-up and rescue tasks.

Madhani's talent and efforts have culminated with his current employment at Walt Disney Imagineering Research and Development, in Glendale, California. At Disney, Madhani will continue the research he began at MIT in robotics, computer controlled systems, and digital technologies. "The atmosphere of invention and creativity at Disney is tremendous, so I feel fortunate to be working here," commented Madhani.

The announcement was made today by Professor Lester C. Thurow, internationally-renowned economist of MIT's Sloan School of Management and chairman of the Lemelson-MIT Awards Board, which oversees its selection process.

"I hope that my inventions will positively shape the future of our society and inspire the imagination," said Madhani. "I also hope that the Lemelson-MIT Program will help show younger students what engineering design is all about. The Lemelson-MIT Student Prize supports the visions of young inventors and encourages us to pursue inventing as career paths, " Madhani said.

"Encouraging young inventors such as Madhani is an investment in the future of America. His visions will lead us into the next millennium," said Professor Thurow. "As we enter the 21st century, it is these young inventors who will change the way we work, the way we live and even the way we heal."

Madhani, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, got his idea for his most recent endeavor, the Black Falcon teleoperated surgical instrument, while watching his father, an orthopedic surgeon, perform an arthroscopic procedure. Realizing that current MIS techniques limit these procedures, Madhani invented the Black Falcon to improve a surgeon's ability to manipulate tissue and to suture and tie knots. "The use of teleoperators will allow new procedures to be performed through small incisions, reducing patient trauma," explains Madhani. "In coronary artery bypass surgery, the ribcage is split through the sternum and spread apart to expose the heart causing trauma to the patient. Teleoperation may allow coronary artery bypass surgery to be performed by inserting instruments between ribs, greatly reducing trauma to the patient."

Madhani's vision for the implementation of robotics has extended into the realm of space exploration. A principal designer of SAFiRE, a force-reflecting virtual reality hand interface, Madhani's device is currently used at NASA's Langley Research Center. The instrument was designed at EXOS, Inc. to train NASA Space Shuttle astronauts to manipulate objects in zero-g (a virtual environment) prior to their actual space experiments. Envisioning the opportunities afforded by the Mars Sojourner, Madhani invented the Talon, a robotic wrist-and-hand built to support NASA's remote autonomous planetary activities.

Previous student prize winners include 1997 winner Nathan Kane, who licensed his bellows designs to two companies; 1996 winner, David Levy, who founded his own company, TH, Inc. ("think"), to market and develop inventions such as the world's smallest keyboard, and the 1995 (and first) Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Thomas Massie, who founded SensAble Devices to market his computer Haptic interface.

The Student Prize is part of the Lemelson-MIT Program, which administers a Lifetime Achievement Award for distinguished careers in inventing in addition to the Nation's single largest prize for invention and innovation — the half-million dollar Lemelson-MIT Prize.

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Read more about Akhil Madhani.

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