Tennessee students build robotic hand for new classmate

Starting at a new school this year, 15-year-old Sergio Peralta had all the typical teenage reasons to be nervous. He was also trying to keep a secret: a hand that was not fully formed.

“In the first days of school, I honestly felt like hiding my hand,” he told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner. “Like nobody would ever find out.” Instead, a teacher at his Tennessee high school learnt his secret and assigned his engineering class a project: build Sergio a new hand.

“You’re supposed to be engineering, coming up with new ideas, solving issues,” Hendersonville High School student Leslie Jaramillo told WTVF, a local CBS affiliate. “And just making things better than how they used to be.”

Sergio, born with a right hand that did not fully form, had become used to it. He learnt to write with his left hand and said he could get by with nearly everything else, figuring out techniques for basic tasks like carrying his water bottle from class to class. The suggestion from his classmates at his school in Hendersonville, 30 minutes northeast of Nashville, came as a happy surprise.

“They ended up offering me, like, ‘We could build your prosthetic hand’, and I never expected it,” Sergio told CBS. “Like, never in a million years.”

Jeff Wilkins’ class, Engineering: Design and Development, was designed to take the theoretical “and turn it into reality”, Henderson High School principal Bob Cotter told the BBC. Sergio’s robotic hand “is a testament to the students we have here who care about each other and the programme that Jeff Wilkins has built,” he said.

The small class of students spent four weeks designing, 3D printing and sizing the prototype to Sergio’s hand, and becoming friends in the process. After a month of work, they put his hand to test with a game of catch, a hobby that was once out of reach.

“[After] living without a hand for 15 years and they actually offered me two is actually pretty cool,” Sergio told WTVF. “Like changed my life”


First black history statues return to Brixton

Three statues thought to be the first sculptures depicting black British people on display in England are set to return to Brixton station later. The life-size bronze figures, called Platforms Piece, were first installed on the platform in 1986 before being removed in 2016 for refurbishment. Created by Kevin Atherton, it depicts three Brixton residents of the time and is Grade II listed.

The original statues will be joined by a new one named Joy II. Joy II depicts Joy Battick, one of the south Londoners featured in the original artwork. Platforms Piece, which was commissioned by the Public Art Development Trust on behalf of British Rail, also shows two other Brixton residents, Karin Heistermann and Peter Lloyd. Historic England said the artwork was “believed to be the first sculptural representation of British black people in England in a public art context”.


CES 2023: Sony unveils controller for disabled gamers

Sony has teamed up with accessibility experts to announce a PlayStation 5 controller for disabled gamers. Project Leonardo is a “highly customisable kit” of different buttons, triggers and sticks that lets players create a set-up that suits their needs. Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller, released in 2018, sells for £74.99 at its UK store – though extra buttons and joysticks can cost much more. But there is currently no release date or price point for Project Leonardo.

A Sony Interactive Entertainment official told BBC News it would work “out of the box” to help gamers play “more easily, more comfortably and for longer periods”. “We feel the breadth of hardware and software customisation options in Project Leonardo is unique and stands out from any other accessibility controller on the market today,” the official said. “Project Leonardo is a true passion project for our team. We’ve drawn on 28 years of design expertise at PlayStation to create a controller kit that we hope many players with disabilities will find useful.”

Several charities helped, including US-based AbleGamers and UK-based SpecialEffect. SpecialEffect founder and chief executive Mick Donegan said he was “really excited to see the impact of the controller on helping to make access to gaming available to many more people”. The charity has previously championed Microsoft’s Adaptive Controller, which officially works with PC or Xbox only but can be used on rival consoles with a third-party adapter. Other manufacturers, such as Hori, have also developed accessible controllers. Last year, 8BitDo made one for gamers with spinal muscular atrophy, after being contacted by a parent.


Takeaway owner offers free pizzas to everyone in Edinburgh

A takeaway owner is offering to give everyone in Edinburgh a free pizza over the next month as an act of kindness. Marc Wilkinson, 55, the owner of Pure Pizza in Morningside, said he had been planning a big altruistic act to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis. He said it would also give his part-time staff more work.

I’m very happy with my plan because it’s a win, win, win for everyone,” he said. “The customers benefit, the suppliers benefit and my team of chefs benefit as it gives them more hours of work.”I keep hearing about how the cost of living is affecting so many people and I just thought that my ovens are running all day anyway, so they may as well be working at full capacity all day if it helps people. “Altruism is something that really interests me so I wanted to try it.”

Mr Wilkinson, who opened the business at the start of the lockdown in March 2020, says his ovens have the capacity to make 18 pizzas every six minutes. The free pizzas will be given to people who visit his shop in Morningside Drive during January, although they will not be available between 17:30 and 20:30. He hopes that anyone who takes up the offer will pass on the act of kindness in their own way. They will only need to provide a valid mobile number. “I hope my idea doesn’t get out of hand but I’m not going to start asking for proof of address, they won’t have to bring in a council tax bill with their address on it,” he added.


Google opens its first UK centre making tech for disabled people

If you design technology with disabled people in mind, you design technology better for everyone. This was the sentiment from Google as it opened its first UK research and development centre dedicated to making tech to help people with disabilities.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and disability charity Everyone Can have worked with Google on developing the centre in London. It is the company’s first accessibility-focused site outside the US. BBC technology reporter Paul Carter said the tech being developed by Google had the “potential to be significant” for disabled people.

There’s a saying in the disability community – ‘nothing about us without us’ – and it’s great to see one of the major tech players embracing that ethos and creating a space to design products and services in a way that they can work with, and not just for, disabled people.”

Google has lots of research teams working on things like artificial intelligence, and a number of the engineers are tasked with looking at “supercharging” accessible tech, making it more mainstream. For example, subtitling technology, which originally started out to help deaf and hard-of-hearing television viewers, had a positive impact on people in general, and has become useful for the masses.

Christopher Patnoe, from Google’s inclusion team, said: “When people have equitable access to information and opportunity, everyone wins – but we know people’s needs are constantly changing, throughout their lives or even their day. “We know we have more to do,” he said.

Project Relate is a Google app, launching in beta in the UK, which helps people who have conditions that makes their speech difficult to interpret. The app learns how to better recognise speech patterns of those who might struggle – like people with muscular dystrophy – and helps them communicate more easily. It does this by transcribing speech to text in real time, repeating someone’s voice in a synthesised voice and speaking into voice assistants.


Leeds: Boy, 11, beats Hawking’s Mensa score

An 11-year-old boy from Leeds has scored the highest possible Mensa test score for under 18s. Yusuf achieved 162 on the test, which is more than the late physicist and author Prof Stephen Hawking, who is believed to have achieved 160. He said he had taken the quiz after friends at school had commented on how “smart” he was. Yusuf celebrated with a meal out with his family, saying: “It feels special to have a certificate.” “Everyone at school thinks I am very smart and I have always wanted to know if I was in the top 2% of the people who take the test.” He said he hoped to go on to eventually study mathematics at Cambridge or Oxford. When not studying he enjoys Sudoku and solving Rubik’s cubes.

His mum Sana said the family were very proud of him. “He is the first person to take the Mensa test in the family,” she said. “I was actually a little concerned too – he has always gone into a hall full of kids to take tests. “We thought he might be intimidated by the adults at the centre, but he did brilliantly.” She said the family took it light-heartedly and she warned her son his father was “still smarter”.

Yusuf’s father Irfan said it had been a difficult test for his son to prepare for. “We just did what we were already doing – nothing specific for the IQ test,” he said. Yusuf’s success could be a family affair as his eight-year-old brother also hopes to take the Mensa test when he is older.


Tower Hamlets: Children stop play space from being dismantled

Children in east London rushed out of their homes to stop a “safer streets” blockade being ripped out by the council. Parents gathering outside Chisenhale Primary School in Bow say they were given little notice of the “pop-up playground” being removed. The standoff resulted in a temporary victory for the families who want the zone to stay in place.

Armed with umbrellas and wearing wellies, Chisenhale schoolchildren defended their play space. The play space is part of the safer streets scheme which allows only parents of schoolchildren, immediate residents and blue badge holders to drive in the area at school drop-off times.

Parents were first told of plans to remove the area on 21 October, just before half term. Last week, Tower Hamlets Council contractors arrived on Thursday morning to find children climbing on top of the barricades in protest and the space was left intact.

The contractors returned to finish the job on Wednesday night, with children running out in their pyjamas and raincoats to fend them off. To the cheer of protesters, one child lay down on a skateboard before the workers gave up trying to dismantle the planters – a key feature of the safety zone – said parent and campaigner Sarah Gibbons. “It happened so fast – we were shocked to see them come out to take it away in the cover of darkness. Everyone rushed out to try and stop them,” she said. “It was led by the kids; they are very aware not only of safety issues but also how bad the pollution is in this area.”

As well as being a play space, the brightly coloured oasis is used for community events. The space was cordoned off and decorated as a place for children to play in. Year three pupil at Chisenhale, Charlotte, said: “We enjoy playing there before, during and after school.”


The four-year-old boy with incredible maths skills

A toddler from West Dunbartonshire has stunned family and friends with his extraordinary maths and language skills. Four-year-old Jamie Mohr, from Old Kilpatrick, can count in six languages and knows 17 times tables.

Jamie was born 12 weeks premature and spent 11 weeks in intensive care. Doctors said his survival was unlikely. His mother Lorraine is tipping him to win a Nobel Prize following his “miraculous” development.

Jamie can count in English, German, Spanish, French, Japanese and Mandarin. He has a handle on addition, subtraction, percentages and fractions, as well as being able to read seven-digit numbers Lorraine said his abilities were apparent at an early age.

Around his second birthday we noticed that he could count to 10 and recite the alphabet, which was quite advanced,” she said. “Just a couple of weeks later he was then counting past 50. And just a little while after that it was over 100 and that was the point I said right, I think something special is going on here.” Lorraine said his progress is even more astounding given his start in life. “Just getting him here – him being born at 28 weeks, 1lb 8oz – was absolutely miraculous,” she said, “Getting him home from hospital after 11 weeks in intensive care, and then finding out that he’s a gifted learner, it’s sort of triple whammy. It’s unbelievable.” She added: “I can’t wait to see if Jamie ends up winning a Nobel Prize one day. “It’s a possibility – he surprises me that much every day with his abilities.”


Lego: Disabled Sussex girl says new toys are amazing

A disabled girl who wrote to Lego asking for better representation in their toys said a new figure with a limb difference was “amazing”. Eight-year-old Sofia from Sussex was born without a left hand, and said she felt unrepresented by the toys. The firm is releasing a new range of toys featuring diverse characters, and surprised Sofia with an announcement on BBC Breakfast. A Lego designer said the new toys were made “to represent the real world”.

Before she found out about the new toys, Sofia told BBC Breakfast: “You don’t feel like you’re represented and there’s no-one like you in these toys.” Fenella Charity, design director at Lego Friends, said the firm had spent two years planning the new range. Ms Charity said her team was “inspired” by Sofia’s letter, as well those from other children across the world. “It makes what we’re doing real,” she said. “In the design team, when we see these letters that have been crafted so carefully by the children that write them, it’s really inspiring to us, and definitely makes us inspired to make a difference.”

The updated range features characters with new skin tones, cultures, physical and non-visible disabilities and neurodiversity.


The Bradford wrestling church mixing sermons with suplexes

Sandwiched between the glass-fronted Science and Media Museum and the Alhambra Theatre, you’d be forgiven for missing Fountains Church among Bradford’s better-known landmarks. But on Thursday nights, the Church of England venue fills Glydegate Square with the sounds of spandex-clad wrestlers being slammed onto canvas and cheers of delight from those assembled in the most unlikely of venues for a grapple. The venue has been combining baptisms and body slams for 12 months, with GT Ministries aiming to provide direction and purpose for young people in the city – whatever their beliefs – who may have lost their way for a variety of reasons. The BBC’s We Are England film-makers went to meet them.

Dressed in a “Pray Eat Wrestle Repeat” T-shirt, Gareth “Angel” Thompson says he opened his wrestling ministry to help those who may have been forced to navigate difficult childhoods and volatile family situations. “You look at the word ‘wrestling’ – they are wrestling with their demons, insecurities, their past, their circumstances,” says the 35-year-old, who describes himself as a Christian, father, husband and pro wrestler. The father-of-two hopes the sport and its setting can help to save young people, much like they saved him as a child.

“The two things that helped me get my life back on track are wrestling and the church,” he says. “The driving force behind the training school is sharing my story and using my past to help others – maybe someone who comes in the door hears something, that’s the start of their journey.”

The low-cost training nights attract about 15 people per session, with a fundraiser successfully hitting a £3,000 target for the church to buy a wrestling ring.

Church leader Linda Maslen, who helped to carry out six adult baptisms during a recent wrestling event at the venue, says: “I met Gareth three years ago, he said ‘this may sound crazy but I’m a pro wrestler, I think we could use this’. “That ultimately led to us buying a wrestling ring and we thought there actually could be an emerging worshipping community coming out of this.”

According to the Church of England, around 7,000 adult baptisms take place a year. Gareth says: “This idea of doing a wrestling church is not beyond reality, church can be whatever you need it to be to fit the audience.

“Jesus didn’t set out a model saying church needs to be X, Y, Z.”