During our last Arduino meetup at SparkMacon makerspace, I had the pleasure of witnessing a most moving talk. In organizing this conversation, we wanted to discuss why tinkering and engineering with Arduino matters. It’s helpful to remember that the makers movement is important because it creates new opportunities to serve and change lives with more accessibility and lower cost.
The Arduino platform has become the heartbeat of maker tools. In our makerspace, an Arduino powers our 3D printer, laser cutter, several robots, wearables, and drones. On Instructables and Thingiverse, you can find hobbyist and expert makers sharing their designs of fantastic inventions. I think it’s cool that the Arduino was not designed for the engineering expert. The creators of Arduino needed to teach microprocessor and electronics design in months. (not years) With this in mind, they aspired to create a micro-controller that was very accessible to the novice. The device needed to scale to more advanced use cases as well like digital fabrication and robotics. The creators desired to drive down the cost of the microcontroller from hundreds of dollars to tens of dollars.
With this introduction in mind, I’d like to share the story of Scott Walker and his wife. It’s just amazing. Scott Walker and I worked together at Mercer Engineering Research Center in our software systems division. As I have been learning more about the makers movement, Scott Walker has been a wonderful mentor and example of the power of focus. His focus comes from a singular idea: he loves his wife. Many years ago, Scott’s wife started losing her capacity to see and hear due to usher’s syndrome. Close your eyes and imagine your life without sound or sight. Their doctors told them that she would probably never hear again. Long before IoT in the home was hip and cool, Scott started inventing small gadgets and tools to support his wife so that she could remain active, interact with the internet and be aware of situations in their home.
During a dental visit, Scott’s wife noticed that she could hear parts of a conversation while a dental tool was being used. With some experimentation on the part of the dentist, they confirmed that she could hear parts of the conversation when the tool was being used against her teeth. Previously, medical professionals had dismissed that idea of using bone conduction to enable her to hear. Given this experience, Scott started his own research into bone conduction for his wife.
After consulting with a friend from Mercer Engineering Research Center, Scott discovered that Adafruit sold an inexpensive bone conduction sensor that he could integrate with an Arduino board. With excitement, he ordered the parts and started prototyping and iterating on his design. Through experiments, they learned that Scott’s wife had an easier time perceiving lower registers over high pitch voices. Scott programmed the micro-controller to map all incoming sound to lower registers. In later iterations of the device, he added a Bluetooth capability so that he could play music and phone calls from his IPhone into the bone conduction device. With a great deal of hard work, Scott created a prototype device enabling his wife to perceive nearly 100% of a normal conversation.
In a very moving moment in the talk, Scott talked about his wife’s experience talking on the phone with her son using this bone conduction device. At this point in life, she had not heard her son’s voice in over 10 years! This was an emotional and technology game changer for her! Scott has an amazing heart. As he shared this story, you can see his eyes fill with tears of joy. As a skilled software engineer and maker, Scott has built many things. He’s most proud of the things he’s built to serve his wife. It’s an outward expression and gift that only he could give. There’s a unique joy in making game changing accessible technology. His maker spirit is powered by his determination and focus to serve and love his wife.
Scott closed the talk asking the makers to have persistence in chasing their mastery of maker skills and learning. He provided an amazing reflection on why the makers movement matters and it’s power to change lives. Scott Walker is a true maker hero. I am blessed to have him as a mentor.
If you’re interested in contacting Scott Walker about his bone conduction listening device or his other accessibility tools, feel free to reach out to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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