Maker uses Arduino to enable his Wife To Hear Again

Scott Walker's Bone Conduction listening device.
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

Real Impact – Women in STEAM Conference 2017

I wanted to give a shoutout to one of my favorite “hands on” learning organizations in Macon: Real Impact Center.   Real impact center focuses on helping to inspire the next generation of young ladies to consider careers as science and technology professionals.  Given that women are underrepresented in STEM career fields, Real Impact has an important mission in exposing girls to STEM careers, giving them ‘hands on’ maker experiences, and helping them see that STEAM careers are cool.   On April 29th, Real Impact organized the “Women in STEAM Conference” in Macon, GA serving more than 250 young ladies with inspiring speakers and hands-on learning experiences.    InspiredToEducate.NET had the honor of presenting a workshop on making electronic music using code.

Stephanie Espy, the author of STEM Gems, shared an empowering message to the ladies on becoming a successful science/technology leader.   Her book interviews 44 female STEM professionals and reviews patterns on their success.   I love books that explore the roots of innovative and creative thinking.   Her book seems to explore patterns of experiences of female STEM leaders like the roles parents play in learning, patterns in play, patterns in teaching, attitudes, and growth mindset.    It was a great keynote!

stem gems1

women in steam conf 2017

Our team had a great time sharing our workshop on Sonic-Pi, making cool electronic music through code.   Sonic-Pi, designed by Sam Aaron, provides a playful environment for writing techno or electronic music using simple coding patterns.   While it’s a great tool to engage students in code education, it’s primary objective is to engage students in exploring music theory.   It’s such a fun learning tool.   During this talk, we had the opportunity to share about the makers movement, our SparkMacon Makerspace, and the fun experiences of building stuff with code.   Given that we were serving girls during our workshop, I had the opportunity to share about the first computer programmer: Ada Lovelace.    Many were surprised to learn that the first computer programmer was a woman.   Additionally, she was one of the first to realize that computers would do more than just crunch math problems.   Hundreds of years ago before electronic computers, she theorized that computers could be used for creative experiences if you could symbolize the creative problem.  Since music theory provides a set of symbols and ideas for defining music, tools for creating music with computers became possible.   If you think about how many creative tasks we accomplish on computers today(creating graphics, music, engineering structures, etc),  this was a profound and visionary concept.

It was fun getting to share this workshop since I love music and building stuff with code.  Music people and coders go through the same emotional challenges when they start.  Both disciplines require practice, problem decomposition, building up of muscle memory, and social skills.  Some of the best programmers I’ve known were music people.   I also want to give a shout out to my friends Joey Allen and Isaiah who coached the workshop with me.   They did a great job inspiring the girls.   In the one hour workshop, almost everyone had the opportunity to sequence some sound samples and put them into a loop.   Some of the more advanced students started building drum patterns,melodies, and longer musical forms.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sonic Pi, check out, my blog post and this free ebook.  Interested in teaching an extended course in Sonic-Pi? check out   It has lesson plans covering 10+ weeks of material.

Special thanks to Real Impact for your leadership in growing the next generation of young makers in Macon, GA!   You are amazing!!  If you’re interested in learning more about Real Impact Center, providing financial support or volunteering, make sure to connect with their website:  .   They have some pretty awesome summer camps this summer!


Sonic Pi Screen