Tomás Vega and Corten Singer

University of California, Berkeley
WheelSense: An Open-Source Smart Add-On System for Wheelchairs
Undergraduate Team Winner

Tomás Vega and Corten Singer both describe themselves as being “passionate about assistive technology,” which is designed to increase the capabilities of people with disabilities. The two met during their freshman year at Berkeley and have been working together to develop a smart wheelchair for their friend Daniel. Daniel has cerebral palsy and is legally blind. They received the 2017 $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in the “Drive it!” category for their invention, WheelSense.

Tomás, who grew up in Lima, Peru, hopes to create “the human of the future,” which he describes as “developing technology to create new or extend existing human senses and capabilities, including cognition and learning.” His work in assistive technology represents an initial step in that direction. He has worked on projects such as Aliviará, a rehabilitation system that helps improve flexibility and reduce pain in arthritis patients; SynthSense, an open-source, Bluetooth-enabled Augmented White Cane (AWC) that helps visually impaired people navigate better and avoid obstacles; and BioKneek, a Bluetooth-enabled prosthetic foot that uses haptic feedback to help users better distribute weight on prosthetic legs, among others.

He has been a research assistant at the UC Berkeley Tactical Hybrid Ecologies Laboratory, an “inventioneer” at the school’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), and a summer intern on the Siri Advanced Development Team at Apple.

Corten, who grew up in San Diego, was class valedictorian at Point Loma High School. He has worked on projects such as Aliviará with Tomás; Wanderer, a smart jacket that uses data from a GPS app to direct users to nearby areas of interest via intuitive wristbands and a wearable digital compass; and SmartWheels, a self-driving, obstacle-avoiding motorized wheelchair that alleviates the burden of navigation for users by following a nearby target (a friend, for example). A long-time surfer, he is also working on MySwell, a modular surf-forecasting device that displays current conditions of nearby surf spots via an LCD screen and LED indicators. At UC Berkeley, he has been a research assistant in the Walker Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and the D’Esposito Cognitive Neuroscience Research Laboratory, and has worked with Professor Björn Hartmann for the past year on human-computer interaction.

Tomas and Corten both expect to receive bachelor’s degrees in computer science and cognitive science from UC Berkeley in May 2017.