This Dubai student is working on a brain-controlled wheelchair
Author and inventor Mir Ali Zain, a 17-year-old Dubai student with a passion for technology, talks about his future plans.
As a teenager it’s not often that you think beyond your immediate goals of passing classes at school and generally having a good time. When I was 17, my only concerns were to make balance sheets tally in Accounting so I would be able to clear Grade 12!
So when we recently met a 17-year-old, who boasts of having published a book that examines the details of the fourth industrial revolution, apart from other outstanding accomplishments for one so young, we couldn’t help feeling hugely impressed.
Mir Ali Zain, an Indian expat who is a student at Dubai’s GEMS Founders, has also worked with United Nations as a project manager to devise and implement strategic solutions with the UN to increase female participation in the digital economy. He is currently interning at Neurable, a leading brain-computer interface company based in Boston, USA.
Prior to his internship with Neurable, Zain led a team to perform research and industry analysis to build a recommendation for PathCheck Foundation, an MIT startup leveraging Google and Apple’s Bluetooth exposure notification API, to achieve more than 50 per cent statewide adoption in Minnesota for their Covid-19 contact tracing app in order to reduce the spread of the virus.
He also worked with BenchSci, a world leader in AI-assisted experiment design for drug development in pre-clinical trials, where he led a team to identify opportunities in clinical trials for the organisation to expand into, and plan strategies and implementation on how their proprietary AI technology can be used to get drugs to patients 50 per cent faster by 2025.
Not only has he worked with innovative companies at such a young age, but he has also built and developed a working prototype of a miniature brain-controlled wheelchair that uses EEG signals to control its movement. “I got a sponsorship from the CEO of BlueberryX (a BCI company) for this project,” Zain said in a conversation with City Times. “I built this project with the intention of helping those with physical disabilities and require assistance for mobility.”
And, if that is not enough, let it be known that Zain has also co-founded applications during hackathons and challenges to address real-world problems by leveraging emerging technologies during the ongoing pandemic.
MobileMe, an application that helped in mitigating fall risk and mobility loss in the elderly via real-time analysis of gait data collected from an accelerometer-based device through predictive analytics performed by using artificial intelligence through a smartphone, won Best Prototype of Global AI Hackathon 2020.
Storix is another development by Zain and his team that aims to deliver a breakthrough to solve the impending data storage crisis by employing nature’s oldest and most reliable hard drive: DNA. It was the winner of the International Moonshot Challenge 2021: Best Overall, People’s Choice Award.
We catch up with Zain, who tells us more about his life, his goals, and who inspires him to keep going in this field.
Where did it all begin? What drove you to pursue the field of technology?
One of my favourite films growing up was Will Smith’s I, Robot. I first watched it when I was around 3 or 4 years old. Although I didn’t understand the plot of the movie back then, seeing a futuristic world filled with advanced technology such as human-like robots and autonomous cars led to a blooming passion for technology. Paired with that passion, was my desire to help those less fortunate than me, which ultimately drove me to pursue a field where I can build things with technology that excite me as well as help others.
What is your aim in life? What goals have you set for yourself in the future?
In my mind, there’s no single goal that feels plausible enough to carry out in such an unpredictable future. I realised this pretty early on, so I worked on being adaptable, shifting my aims as problems change, through building width and depth of knowledge. However, I recognise that no matter which direction I choose to take, I have a goal of becoming an inspiring figure, reinstating a sense of hope and paving the way for younger generations through my work.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
I hope to have built a massive enterprise based on the work I’m passionate about, as I strive to be a leading force in addressing problems on a global scale using emerging technologies.
In your book about the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0: Position, Direction, Impact, what ‘arising issues’ do you think the world will face and how will it combat such issues?
With all its benefits, the fourth industrial revolution also has its issues, a multitude of which I’ve examined in my book, including commonly acknowledged problems like its environmental impact and unemployment, but also those less talked about, such as a greater gender disparity in the workforce, the widening inequality between developed and developing economies, advancements in cyber and biological warfare, as well as the aggravation of the downsides of social media.
In order to avoid this, governments should step up and place regulations to manage the use of technology. Because of the industrial revolution’s rapidly evolving nature, governments will have to work quickly and adapt to keep up with the pace. As it stands, several new technological breakthroughs have not undergone scrutiny by officials, meaning they have not been considered in recent pronouncements. This time period between recent developments and their regulation is enough to pose a potential threat, however, this can be managed by regulators applying lean-agile values — that will both support growth and enforce rules that suit public interest.
When do you plan on making the actual model of your miniature brain-controlled wheelchair?
Currently, I’m focused on improving the miniature model before I make any plans to go forward with the project. I am still learning, and I found that the more I know, the more I want to expand my work to have a larger impact. The brain-controlled wheelchair is on the back burner for now, but I recognise it as my first step towards building something greater.
Who is your inspiration and why?
If I had to choose one, then it would have to be Elon Musk. He’s a figurehead in the tech industry for his innovative way of thinking, and his sheer persistence to see through every problem that comes his way.