Whatever Happened to the Indonesian Iron Man?

In what year did an Indonesian welder go viral for claiming to have made a mind-controlled prosthetic arm out of junk?

Amanda Pedersen

June 20, 2023

2 Min Read
metal gears on metal background.png
Image credit: kovalchuk / iStock via Getty Images

Back in 2016, an Indonesian welder and stroke victim went viral for making what he claimed was a brain-controlled prosthetic arm out of scrap metal, earning him the nickname of the "Indonesian Iron Man."

I Wayan Sumardana, also known as Tawan, reported creating a functional device that relied on signals from his brain to his arm using electrodes attached to a wearable contraption on his head. He said 90% of the device was made from junk parts and that he built it using skills he developed in vocational training. He also said he relied on online articles while designing the device, and that he ordered the brain sensor from the United States.

But a lot of people who saw his video thought it was too good to be true.

The site Soyacincau even published an article calling the so-called Indonesian Iron Man's bluff. The authors wrote that the device didn't seem to make much sense from an engineering perspective.

Noting that the man's "brainwave detector" looked like a bunch of LEDs strapped around his head with Duct tape, the article's author, Rory Lee, questioned how the device would be capable of detecting the brainwaves issued by a part of the brain impacted by his stroke.

"Everything about this story seems too sketchy to be true," Lee writes. "The fact that a simple mechanic from a rural town could just one day up and build something so advanced from spare parts should have raised at least a few flags. Add 'brainwave-controlled' to that description and you would have a beautiful script to a story designed for the big screen. You would have Iron Man actually. And Tony Stark doesn’t exist — no matter how hard Elon Musk tries."

Regardless of the authenticity of the so-called Indonesian Iron Man's device, it seems that it didn't hold up for long anyway.

A real breakdown of Tawan’s incredible technology was never really shared and when Bali’s governor wanted to send a team of experts to evaluate the workings of the device, Tawan said water damage broke the sensor on his robotic arm.

But whatever happened to him after all that?

According to local newspaper Tribun Bali, the man still works as a welder and machine repairman, and his left arm still appeared to be paralyzed. At that time, however, Sumardana was using a semi-manual device made from bicycle gears, washers, and a motor chain with an electrical input.

“The tool I’m using now is more comfortable, though more complicated," he told the newspaper. "Using the EEG robotic would quickly tire out my mind. Now I’m not Iron Man anymore because the EEG robotic is broken and cannot be used anymore."

About the Author(s)

Amanda Pedersen

Amanda Pedersen is a veteran journalist and award-winning columnist with a passion for helping medical device professionals connect the dots between the medtech news of the day and the bigger picture. She has been covering the medtech industry since 2006.

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