Mason Wilde discovered his career path through a neighborly gesture for a family friend and her 9-year-old son.
That was three years ago, while Wilde was a senior at Louisburg High School thinking that some day he might like to become a mechanical engineer.
Today, as a sophomore at the University of Kansas, Wilde has his own business and has been invited to speak Sunday at the TEDx-UMKC Conference in White Recital Hall at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This summer, Wilde is set to intern with Google.
Here’s how it all happened:
Mason was home recovering from a concussion he’d gotten playing high school football when a family friend asked if he could build a prosthetic hand for her son. Not that Wilde had ever done such a thing. But the friend knew he was good at building things and had a math and science mind.
She already had the design to build a hand prosthetic from parts that had to be created on a 3-D printer. Just so happens, such a printer existed at the Johnson County library.
But the family friend couldn’t get the project done herself and couldn’t afford the big money others told her they wanted to build the hand for her.
Her son, in the third grade at the time, had been born with only a thumb and a few partial digits on his right hand, a condition referred to as a limb difference. Kids sometimes poked fun at him. His mom thought maybe a cool mechanical-looking hand would flip the kind of attention her son would get from his peers.
Wilde told The Star in 2014 that the project intrigued him. Since the little boy’s hand was so small, Wilde had to reconfigure the design he was given. Then with $60 in supplies, Wilde built a cool-looking mechanical hand for his young friend.
“It was a pretty involved thing, but we got the hand done,” Wilde said in a release about his TEDx-UMKC speaking appearance scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. The event is modeled after the popular TED Talks programs.
The hand Wilde made helped his little friend Matthew Shields grab things, even a pencil — something he struggled to do before Wilde made the hand.
After The Star wrote about Wilde’s project, he received lots of local and national media attention. And with it came donations. Wilde used the money to form Dextella Co.,a nonprofit that manufactures other robotic hands to order. Wilde provides the links to design files on the company’s website.
While the KU engineering student provides the plans for making a 3-D hand, he encourages people to put the prosthetic together themselves.
“I’ve been very clear you don’t need me, but if you want me to do it, I’m there,” Wilde said, in the release. “I actually have a lot more people asking me for help ... information to help them, rather than making hands,” Wilde said. “I see that as a good thing.”
At the TEDx event, Wilde, who is currently doing research at KU on cognitive architecture, or problems in artificial intelligence, will speak from personal experience about using technology and innovation to better the community.