11-year-old Arnav Sharma was 9 when he invented the Asthma Pi, a device which helps asthma sufferers get ahead of an attack by picking up allergens before they cause a reaction. Arnav has developed his idea into a working product and in 2016, won the Tech4Good BT Young Pioneer Award.
In this interview, Arnav tells us where his idea came from, the skills he learnt to make it a reality, and the challenges and setbacks he has faced. He also shares some tips about how you can take your idea from concept to product - whatever your age.
Manisha is Arnav's mum, she answers some of the questions.
Can you tell us about your invention?
Asthma Pi is for people with asthma to improve their management. Basically, it detects all the triggers of asthma. For children under 5, they can find out the trigger of asthma and avoid it which in turn means they avoid having an asthma attack. It also has reminders for medication and 6-month check-ups. It texts the person to remind them.
Once they find out the trigger they can input it so every time it’s high it gives them an alert. If it’s dust, as soon as there’s a higher dust reading the alarm will go off so they can take their steroids and be ahead of having an attack.
What gave you the inspiration to create this?
At the end of Year 3 one of my close friends reacted to a trigger and had an asthma attack, so I got interested in asthma. At the same time, I was learning Python and playing with Raspberry-Pi so I started a project to help people with asthma, to prevent them from having an attack.
What advice would you give to young people that have an idea?
First, plan everything properly, organise it before you actually get into all the techy stuff. When you get to the tech stuff you’ll encounter many errors you’ll have to persevere through them. Don’t give up basically.
When you were working on the project did you realise it could be a business idea?
My sister Mihika had won an Award in Big Bang Fair, and my mother was looking for her photo. While doing so she came across a tweet about Tech4Good Awards. She nominated me for Tech4Good Awards, and only told me about it when I was selected as a finalist. After winning the award, lots of people started to ask my mother if AsthmaPi was commercially available. That's when we decided to try and get funding to make it a commercial product.
What would you say to anyone at secondary school that might think they’re too young to start a business or too young to start a project?
Age is just a number. You can try to do what you’re thinking about, you can contact other people. You can always ask for support from the school and you can just start whatever your idea is and if you do encounter a problem and think you are too young just carry on and think of it as fun, sort of a game.
What would you say the biggest challenge is you’ve faced, being a young entrepreneur?
People say, “you’re too young to get onto the business side of things, making it a proper product”. The Asthma Pi is under proof-of-concept stage so people don’t let me get the funding needed. People say they'll do it, nobody’s actually done that.
Manisha: People say they’ll help. They say they’ll help you, I email them but nobody gets back. The Tech4Good people have made every effort to bring him into the highlight.
Has your school been supportive?
My teacher has supported me, I’m sure there are some schools that are involved in coding that they should interact with your school and if they are that kind of school I’m sure they’ll help you.
Does your school do any coding?
No, not my school.
What would you say to someone who has got lots and lots of ideas but they don’t feel that they’re very technical?
Before I started the Asthma Pi I didn’t know. You just have to learn a new skill - go online and find what you need. It’s more of a learning experience when you’re making whatever your idea is.
How do you think families can help? Would you recommend young people speak to their parents?
Yes, family is really supportive. They will help you get through when you’re not succeeding. Even if they’re not that techy they’ll try and help you.
Manisha: We couldn’t help, we didn’t know any coding so just supporting him emotionally, even people saying they’ll help, and then they don’t, it’s frustrating. He doesn’t trust anyone now because many have done that and haven’t come back to us.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future, jobwise or making another product?
Manisha: He’s made one for dementia patients, which dementia patients are trying it out, called Vivifyme.
It’s for people with dementia based on non-medication based approaches to slow down the progress of dementia. Puzzles, keeping socially active, and non-medication based strategies.
Manisha: And it’s personalised. He’s got a clock that speaks to them as well. Any adult can use it. It sets time reminders, this it the time for your lunch, to call your daughter. It can do it with mapping and send an email to the carer that tells them how they’re feeling.
What would you like to do in your future career?
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Lead image by Alpha Stock Images via Creative Commons Images