Arnav Kapur

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
AlterEgo, a non-invasive-peripheral-nerve computer interface and ISGEC platform
Graduate Winner

Arnav Kapur has always loved science, math, and the arts—disciplines that offer unique perspectives, which he says are all important to consider not as separate disciplines, but as complements when attempting to find solutions to problems in the world. Growing up in New Delhi, India, Arnav considered himself an explorer and a builder, always intrigued by problem solving and uncovering what the greater problem at hand might be.

Arnav came to the U.S. to pursue his masters and PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is currently studying Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. Arnav has an extensive list of accomplishments, with inventions that include a 3D printable drone, a new platform to measure gene expressions at large scale, and a device called Drishti that helps to rehabilitate the visually impaired. He has also worked on a lunar rover that is intended to land on the moon and relay pictures back to Earth. In addition, Arnav co-developed a new age art installation that has been on display at the Tate Modern in London and at the alt-AI conference in New York.

Arnav is curious about how the human mind interprets and creates the universe. Computers are machines that humans use to outsource cognitive tasks for efficiencies and speeds much greater than the capabilities of the human mind. Arnav’s work explores whether AI and computing could instead be woven into the human experience as a direct extension of our cognition, rather than via external devices. In this way, computers would extend human ability multifold, instead of diminishing or replacing humans from our environment.

To this end, Arnav invented a wearable device that transcribes a user’s internally articulated speech and then gives sensory and audio feedback to the user through bone conduction in the skull. This invention is called AlterEgo and it allows humans to communicate with computers or other people without having to orally pronounce speech or make any mouth movements or physical actions, freeing us to interact with the world around us. Arnav’s portfolio of inventive work earned him the 2019 $15,000 “Use it!” Lemelson-MIT Student Prize.

Arnav also spends a large part of his time helping others. For more than six years he worked with disadvantaged youth at the Kutumb Foundation in New Delhi. There, he empowered children by leading community building experiences, fostering communication and life skills, and engaging them in activities in the arts and sports. In this role, Arnav was able to create a collaborative environment where the children felt a sense of purpose. At MIT, Arnav has also shown mentorship to his peers by advising students participating in internships in the Media Lab. He has helped them to conduct independent research and to navigate both academic and personal life on campus.