Maia Dua, a teenager from California, recently won a Marvel Studios competition called Girls Reforming the Future Challenge for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) inventions.
The 16-year-old created a 'seeing eye robot' that beat over 1,000 entries. Her inspiration was to create something that could assist vision-impaired people by replacing prohibitively expensive guide dogs.
The robot has three ultrasonic sensors in the front, which start beeping when they detect an object is in front of it. Mounted on a walking stick, the box-with-wheels is made out of readily accessible materials which means people with limited finances could potentially have these instead of pricey dogs.
According to its inventor, the robot has a functional life span of more than seven years and is self-propelled and echo-locating.
After Dua learned that a guide dog for a visually impaired person can cost US$50,000 in breeding and training costs, she came up with a cheaper option. Dua hopes her invention can address the needs of those who can't access a seeing guide dog.
"This right here would run retail $600 so that's way cheaper,” Dua said in an interview on KCRA.
"You can be creative with anything. You can think of an idea and you have the power to create it,” she told the TV station.
It was no easy feat for the River City High School student. Dua says she got up at 6am to work on her robot and would go to bed at 2am.
The Marvel Studios competition was a promotional endeavour leading up to their latest movie featuring Captain America. However, is was geared specifically towards girls aged 15-18 in the US, asking them to create something innovative within the field of science and technology.
This is not the first iteration of a seeing eye robot - a Japanese company showed off a prototype already back in 2011, and it still has not taken jobs away from dogs.
However, the goal of such STEM competitions for teens isn't necessarily to create a functioning product - instead, these successes motivate and encourage girls to maintain their interest in tech and science, fields where female representation still isn't equal to men.
As one of the top five finalists in the competition, Dua was flown to Los Angeles for Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War movie premiere. During her trip she found out that she had actually won, getting her a chance for an internship at Marvel Studios. The teen is also a varsity wrestler and a straight-A student so the robot is not a bad addition to her list of accolades.