Hoping to aid veterans, Ohio teen invents physical therapy device

Donald Bell/CBS Interactive

After meeting several injured veterans, Joseph Anand started reading articles about their difficulties with physical therapy. He took a special interest, as he always has with military affairs, and quickly decided he wanted to help.

The goal might seem ambitious for a 14-year-old, but it was par for the course with Joseph, a home-schooled whiz kid who has already compiled an enviable list of accomplishments.

In March 2011 he won the grand prize at the North-East Ohio Science and Engineering Fair as well as awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and other organizations for a prototype drone that was designed to use special image-recognition software to tell the difference between marijuana plants and other flora.

Last year, he was part of a team that won top prize at the BEST Medicine Engineering Fair in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, for a project called the Arduino Powered Personal Limb Exerciser (APPLE). It's designed to help paralysis patients avoid muscle atrophy.

Joseph is also part of the maker movement, a group of super-creative and motivated amateur inventors and do-it-yourselfers. Makers are creating everything from robots to video games to medical devices.

When he decided to make something to help injured veterans, Joseph turned back to the Arduino system that his award-winning team used last year. This time, he added a Microsoft Kinect to the set-up. The result is what he calls KARTS for Vets. KARTS stands for Kinect and Arduino Rehab System.

Arduino is an open-source electronics platform. According to the site www.arduino.cc, "Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators."

Joseph set the Arduino to control a small motor that attaches to the limb in need of physical therapy. He then programmed a Microsoft Kinect to administer a doctor-approved PT regimen.

The system requires users to move their limbs to specific angles or through a range of motion, timing their progress as they go. The Kinect sensors read their movements. If they run out of time or cannot reach the desired angle, the Kinect communicates with the Arduino, which then controls the motor attached to the limb.

Joseph built the device right in the living room of the home he shares with his parents and six siblings. Sometimes, he says, he works in the basement. But most of the time, he and his younger brother, Daniel, a fellow maker, spread their gear out across the living room carpet. Their dad, Vijay, a software engineer, helps them with the tough technical stuff, Joseph adds. An Akron University professor also assisted with the electronic aspects of the system.

Joseph says the system works with upper and lower limbs. So far, he's tested it out on a giant teddy bear, but he plans to test out a full model later this year. He has also contacted the Cleveland V.A. Hospital to discuss using the system as part of its PT regimen.

This weekend, he will showcase a prototype of KARTS for Vets at the New York Maker Faire. Joseph and Daniel, 12, are two of the event's featured makers.

Daniel will be showcasing an electric-powered wooden seat that allows wheelchair users to transfer between a bed and their wheelchair without the assistance of a nurse or caretaker. The seat uses an ATV motor, a battery pack and pulley system.

More than 70,000 curious guests are expected to attend this weekend's Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science, where they'll meet more than 650 innovators.

The inaugural Maker Faire took place in San Mateo, Calif. In 2006. More than 120,000 people attended the 2013 Bay Area Maker Faire. The event first arrived in New York in 2009.

In addition to meeting the Anand brothers, guests at the Maker Faire can make their own robot, look through industrial-grade microscopes aboard the BioBus, see what the life-size mouse trap is all about, build 3D dinosaur models, and take sustainable art lessons. There will be presentations by executives from Disney and professors from MIT and the Rhode Island School of Design. Writers, musicians, and craft mavens will showcase their skills.

In other words, the faire can be whatever you make of it.

This weekend's Maker Faire kicks off Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10am. Doors are open until 7p.m. on Saturday and 6p.m. Sunday.

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    Danielle Elliot is a freelance science editor and reporter for CBS News. She holds an M.A. in science and health journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. in broadcast journalism from the University of Maryland. Follow her on Twitter - @daniellelliot.

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