Conor Maddry: the New Tony Stark?

Photo courtesy of Conor Maddry.

Conor Madry exhibits his exoskeleton at the ISEF science fair

Minh Pham, Reporter

 Terminator, Iron Man, and Transformers are just a few of many science fiction films centered around the fantasy of a bionic man. However, this fantasy will remain one no longer. Junior Conor Maddry, renowned for creating last year’s award winning science fair project of a bionic arm, has done it again; winning grand prize at Langley’s 2014 science fair for the creation of a bionic exoskeleton.

Maddry was able to build his system from original designs and concepts. “There are no directions I am using to build it,” Maddry explained, “it is a new system as far as I can tell and it has not has not been done yet.”

Maddry’s project involves an aluminum exoskeleton which surrounds his body and it also includes electromyography and neurology because it is designed to move and react to the movements of his own muscles. “It uses pneumatic actuators on all major joints of the body to amplify each joint’s rotational torque and a signal acquisition [system].”

The process of building the exoskeleton was extremely complex; involving extensive research, laborious construction and much trial and error. “The hardest thing with building it was integrating and calibrating all of the systems to work in harmony and be smooth so they work together efficiently,” said Maddry. Additionally, configuring the signal acquisition system also served as an obstacle in constructing the exoskeleton. “The signal acquisition part was difficult because the signals from your nervous system that are sent from your brain are really, really small, like on a two millilevel scale, which is one thousandth of a volt, so any type of interference would be tricky,” said Maddry. “I had to figure out the frequencies and try to filter them out.”

Apart from being impressive, innovative, and incredibly interesting, Maddry’s invention is also extremely practical and versatile. “I originally made a bionic arm to help older or handicapped people to help with rehabilitation and I just decided to take off on that and do something with a use for medical purposes for rehabilitation or the military,” said Maddry. “This prototype won’t necessarily impact science but hopefully next year I can develop it further. It’s more of a product instead of just a concept; there are different things on this suit that are dissimilar to almost every other suit on the market right now, like the pneumatic system.”

Students, administrators, and judges alike are all impressed by his engineering feats. “It’s definitely innovative. I thought it was incredible for a high school student to put that kind of research into it and that kind of time to build it. Something that is very different from other projects,” said Langley science fair coordinator and AP Biology teacher Mr. Jeromy Gilman.  “It has a great visceral impact it’s a technical tour de force and it’s also much in research by the U.S. government” added Maddry’s sponsor and Physics teacher Mr. Robert Foley. “When something becomes someone’s passion you can tell, especially with someone of Conor’s ability. He spent a lot of time on it and it truly shows; it’s a  truly professional product.”