$30,000 LEMELSON-MIT STUDENT PRIZE WINNER
MIT Student Receives Lemelson-MIT Student
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
"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
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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