It was an early morning in March when my colleague Bobby Marinov dropped an article written by Matthias Bey on the Kosmos Cyborg hand that I picked up on my feed and passed along. In a swift move of pride, I, an awesome auntie, had to get it for one of the most awesome nephews around (yes, the awesomeness prevails in this family). Unbeknownst to unsuspecting uncle and aunt Vazquez’s with roots in the exo world, a hyper-engineering young man from Alexandria, Virginia, had taken an interest in robotics and exoskeletons. His passion started around age 6 (maybe sooner…), along with a Lego appetite that simply doesn’t quit. The exo angle was a mystery to me, and I just had to find out more. The more questions I asked, the more fascinating it became. This young man is eight years old with the engineering mind of a much more mature soul.
He attends Aquinas Montessori School in Alexandria, an environment that encourages exploration, individuality, and the pursuit of passion. At home and at school, David Elias Vazquez Sandoval, with the curious eyes, ears, and appetite of a healthy young mind, rises to the call of “problem-solving” by building, reading (a LOT), music (piano), sports (taekwondo and soccer) and many hugs and snuggles with his very close family. This kid is not only bright, but he is also loving with a passion for doing what is right. He is honest and fiercely loyal, and driven. And the fact that he is such a Harry Potter and Star Wars buff makes him even more adorable to those of us privileged enough to call him “Davi.” He is responsible for turning us on to everything Mark Rober (former NASA engineer and overall engineering genius) – glitter bombs, Phat Gus, and lately, everyone’s favorites, the scammers. Every year Mom jumps into the Mark Rober site hoping to hit a summer camp spot for her holding-his-breath son. With Davi’s tenaciousness and bleeding-heart drive, I am sure that @MarkRober will finally have a spot open among the thousand requests a year and bring him to the mecca. It would be a dream come true for the boy and for the family, who gushes in pride over this loving soul. In the meantime, I keep gifting the swag – because that is what the “cool aunts” do.
The Interview with David Elias Vazquez Sandoval
Once done with the usual niceties of our very serious interview – who you are, what you like, where you live, and all the important small talk – I had to start off with understanding what he thought “exoskeletons are.” Without hesitation and with the clarity of a teacher, he walked me through the world of nature and creatures such as “crabs, they wear their exoskeleton structure on the outside for protection.” For people, he explained, “they are “robotic” structures that they can wear to help them. Like people with disabilities, to help them walk or do things”. VERY insightful for an 8-year-old mini-adult. Most adults don’t grasp the concept when explained to them (I couldn’t help myself and the shared standard definitions at a “21-year-old-level” because he is a bit avant-garde. He learned that not all exos are robotic. He was pleased with the information because, of course, he built his own passive hand out of cardboard and strings… see left).
Davi has been taking things apart and building things since he was little. He loves doing this because he has a particular fascination with how things move and work. He loves engineering (and math, his favorite subject) because it’s about finding solutions and fixing things. He wants to find solutions. He likes to fix things. He wants to help.
The Cyborg Hand Project
At first impressions, he was thrilled to receive the package (particularly coming from your favorite aunt, out of nowhere and for no apparent special reason other than awesomeness). When he looked at it, he thought to himself that this project would come with some difficulty and take him a couple of days, but he jumped right into it. He didn’t stop until he was done. The Davi highlights:
- Hydraulics. He learned about hydraulics and was pleased to learn that not all hydraulics require fluids and that the “cyborg”-ish hand was not robotic. The kit is a very useful interactive product to teach the foundations of hydraulics with an end result that is relatable (“kinda” keep reading).
- It took 3-4 hours to complete, with no adult assistance = age appropriate for an 8-year-old.
- Instructions were clear and easy to follow.
- His favorite features were the fingers – the articulation, the “tendons,” and the joints. Realistically, it can easily grasp a pencil and other items (he had told me this prior to the actual interview).
- As for “product improvements,” he found the screws to be loose, and therefore the fit was loose. He had to try to tighten the “hand” on the sides, but it kept slipping. He also recommends that for the grip, they swap out the foam for something “stickier” like rubber. And lastly, Davi points out that they forgot the pinky… But in all fairness to the inventor, he inspired this boy so much that he built another hand from a cereal box, cardboard, and strings (and no pinky… Just saying, Davi. Room for product improvement). Thus “kinda” relatable because no pinky = not a full “hand.”
Back to the Exoskeleton Report article, I agree with the conclusions thereof, but this time supported by two pinky-less end products made by enthusiastic 8-year-olds. The Cyborg Hand from KOSMOS gets two thumbs up. It is a crafty and creative teaching kit that is appealing, well presented, and keeps the young builder engaged. The final product is worthy of admiration – from the engineer, parents, and of course, overly obnoxious exo-hungry aunts with a very selfish agenda (maybe THESE are the Champions we seek?!).
During WeaRAcon 23, I had a chance to talk about my nephew and the project with Dr. Karl Zelik (Engineering Professor at Vanderbilt University and Co-Founder & Chief Scientist at HeroWear), who, of course, had jumped on it like a grenade and got one for himse.. son. Karl told me that he sat with his son through the project but was not allowed to assist. He was placed on “filing duty” as some parts were a bit sharp and benefitted from the filing. They both thought the product was cool and a valuable and easy teaching tool. In the same age group as Davi, his son enjoyed the product and learned a lot about hydraulics with equal satisfaction with the results and similar findings as Davi.
Bobby, I agree. Karl agrees, and I’m sure many more satisfied parents and their kids agree. Worth every penny.
Exo community – we need more! Bring the kits! Keep the STEM and young minds going. They are the future innovators, product improvers, and CHAMPIONS. This is the way…
Rita (Rita Gonzalez) Vazquez-Torres is a Senior Technology and Programs Strategist with 20+ years of entrepreneurial government Science and Technology Policy and leadership experience and CEO for NewStoneSoup VT LLC. Rita has served as Senior Industrial Security/Special Security for Special Programs; Business Development/Strategic Outreach Liaison and team leader. more…
This is not sponsored or affiliated content. Below is a link to the article by Matthias Bey that inspired both Rita and Karl: Hands-On Review: KOSMOS Cyborg Hand Set for Kids (March 2023).