Grayson Rosenberger thinks outside the bubble. And because he does, the 15-year-old student from Nashville, Tenn., is on the road to making a difference
by Susanne Hopkins

Grayson Rosenberger thinks outside the bubble. And because he
does, the 15-year-old student from Nashville, Tenn., is on the road
to making a difference in the lives of people he doesn't even
know.

Using Bubble Wrap, the popular plastic packaging, Rosenberger
has devised a $15 covering that provides lifelike dimensions to
prosthetic legs. His invention has won him the da Vinci Apprentice
Award (see sidebar), and he has already won a $10,000 award from
the Sealed Air Corp., maker of Bubble Wrap.

Rosenberger's creation offers hope to leg amputees in Third
World countries. Because they cannot afford the usual price tag for
a lifelike prosthesis and must use only the plain metal rod, they
are ridiculed and often refused jobs.

“My idea was to use Bubble Wrap to simulate muscle tone
and form a cosmetic shell for artificial limbs,” Rosenberger
writes in an account of his invention. The prosthesis is wrapped in
Bubble Wrap, secured with packing tape and molded with a heat
gun.

“Pulling an inexpensive, flesh-colored hose over the
Bubble Wrap made the device look more lifelike and would help the
amputee blend in with their society for a fraction of the costs of
conventional cosmetic coverings,” Rosenberger writes.

How did he even come up with such an idea?

“In 1983, my mother, Gracie, was in a terrible car
accident that cost her more than 70 operations, including the
amputation of both legs,” Rosenberger explains.

“While recovering from losing her legs, my mother watched
a television show about amputees in developing countries, and she
knew at that moment that she wanted to provide artificial limbs for
amputees just like her, so she and my father [Peter] started
Standing With Hope [ target="_blank">www.standingwithhope.com]. They work with the
government of Ghana and train their workers on how to provide
high-quality prosthetic limbs in a low-tech environment.”

Rosenberger had heard stories and seen videos of his family's
work in Ghana, and he was particularly moved by the story of
Daniel. “My parents took care of his need for a prosthetic
leg last year, but he really wanted a covering so his classmates
wouldn't tease him,” the inventor says.

That was the inspiration for his creation. In June, he traveled
to Ghana to put his invention into practice and train clinic
employees to make the coverings.

His intent was to make Daniel's leg first. But sadly, he learned
that Daniel had died of malaria just weeks before. “He was
only 15, just like me,” Rosenberger writes.

While it was too late for Daniel, Rosenberger's invention is
changing the lives of many others in Ghana.

“In Africa, I realized I'm in a big story, in a much
larger world,” he writes. “I want my message to be,
‘Anyone can make a difference, even a woman who's missing
both legs … or a teenager with Bubble Wrap.’”

Da Vinci Awards Honor Adaptive, Assistive Inventions

This year's da Vinci Awards, which benefit the National Multiple
Sclerosis Society, will be presented in Dearborn, Mich., on Sept.
28. The awards honor outstanding engineering achievements in design
process, product design and applied research that embrace the
Universal Design Principle.

Adaptive technology winners this year include:

  • Handybar, an aluminum handle that fits into a car door striker
    plate to enable easy entrance and exit;

  • FuelCall System, a touch-pad connected to a service-station
    island that allows drivers with disabilities to summon
    assistance;

  • EagleEyes, which, through electrodes placed on the user's head,
    allows people to control the computer by moving only their
    eyes;

  • Independence iBOT 4000 Mobility System, a wheelchair that allows
    users to power across uneven terrain and climb curbs and steps up
    to five inches;

  • Proprio Foot, an intelligent foot module for amputees that
    provides a wide range of automated ankle flexion;

  • WalkAide, a battery-operated technology that helps restore
    functionality to impaired extremities.

Several special awards, including the Apprentice Award to
Grayson Rosenberger, will also be presented.

For more information about the awards, visit www.davinciawards.com.