Raspberry Pi prodigy can't get funding for asthma-warning device because he's 11

Arnav Sharma is only 11 years old but he’s already achieved more than most people twice his age. 

When he was nine years old he invented AsthmaPi – a tool that detects asthma triggers, based on a platform using the Raspberry Pi – and now that he’s got a couple more years under his belt he’s invented a tool for dementia, and an education tool to teach children about food waste and sustainability. 

His work on AsthmaPi won him the BT Young Pioneer award at Tech4Good 2016, but things haven’t all been smooth sailing for the impressive youngster; he is apparently hitting a fairly significant hurdle in getting funding because of his age.

Not just a number

Arnav is a polite, unassuming young man who we sat down with at an event to celebrate the 2018 Tech4Good awards. As he’s so young, he was joined by his mother Dr Manisha Sharma, who is obviously a big influence in the boy’s life.

Arnav learnt the skills necessary to create AsthmaPi from YouTube; Manisha told us that both she and her husband (who’s also a doctor) are actively involved in Arnav’s education, rewarding his curiosity with at-home experiments and lessons. 

But before it starts seeming like the influence of pushy parents, Manisha seems as surprised as anyone that her son has learnt the things he has:

“As parents we don't know any coding, or anything from the engineering side,” Manisha said,  “We explained to him what asthma is, and what dementia is, but he learned all the coding languages online by himself. He knows C++, Python, and Ruby. He built the hardware, we just buy whatever he asks us to.”

You can check out Arnav talking about his invention in the video below:

And it’s not just coding that Arnav has taught himself, he’s also used YouTube to get to level five on piano, violin, and guitar, all without parental instruction. 

An area where Manisha does have to get involved is in dealing with companies on Arnav’s behalf. Apparently they are having problems getting successfully funded because Arnav can’t do pitch meetings on account of being a child. 

It’s an interesting problem, but on Manisha is keen to overcome as she believes AsthmaPi could save the lives of children. 

Getting started

We asked Arnav if he had any advice for inventors (young or old) starting out, and his major tip was about proper preparation: 

“Before you get into making whatever great idea you have, research it properly, plan it out, be organized. I learnt this lesson the hard way. I bought an analogue sensor without knowing the PI only supports digital sensors, so I had to buy an analogue to digital converter and lots of extra hardware, and then it ended up not working.”

So it’s good to know that even the best do occasionally make mistakes. 

With the news around YouTube and children recently being so focused on the harm that can be caused by leaving children alone with the streaming service, it's great to hear about the positives that the platform can create. 

Andrew London

Andrew London is a writer at Velocity Partners. Prior to Velocity Partners, he was a staff writer at Future plc.