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North Hills Monthly

Local Inventor Brings Ideas to Life

Nov 30, 2015 06:15PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch
Bill Elwell
For local inventor and self-described geek, Bill Elwell, meeting new challenges has helped keep the peace in his life since retiring in 2002. “For creative and logical people, the left and right sides of our brain are constantly fighting each other; there aren’t enough outlets to keep them calm, so I invent things to help keep my brain from fighting,” he laughed.

Elwell has always been one to have goals. At age 7, he built his first telephone. By age 9, he was showing off his sleight of hand through magic tricks. After graduating from college with an electronic engineering degree in 1970, Elwell headed south from Indiana to follow his dream of working for Walt Disney, but with company rules requiring that he establish Florida residency and bills setting in, he headed back home to work for Miles Laboratories. Throughout his 29 years with the company, including a move to the Pittsburgh region after the company was acquired by Bayer, the process control engineer continued to challenge himself at work, where he was the first person to program the Alka-Seltzer® line on a computer in order to fine-tune the product.

“The way my mind works is that I can never be bored; but if I start to get bored, it drives me to follow my thoughts and pursue projects,” said the Cranberry resident, adding that the ideas for projects come in several different ways. “There are outside influences, such as someone asking me to build something specific, articles that spark my imagination, or an event such as a Halloween party that drives me to rig the kitchen with flying ghosts. Luckily for me, my wife is also creative and very patient!”

Elwell not only designs and creates for his own pleasure, but for others as well. In the mid-1980s, the inventor was extremely interested in robotics and taught the subject to work colleagues. This sparked a call from the local police department to ask for his assistance in creating a life-sized robot for an elementary school program to teach children about stranger danger and drug awareness. With the financial support of the local Rotary Club, Elwell spent four months building Roty the Robot, and three subsequent years fine-tuning and fixing it as needed.

Because of his love for animatronics, he learned about 3D printing and building high-tech prosthetics. After learning about two inventors from South Africa and Washington State who collaborated online to create a robotic hand, Elwell joined their organization, Robohand, as a Pittsburgh representative to help build prosthetic hands for children with amniotic band syndrome–a condition in which they are born with a palm, but no fingers. “We can build prosthetics that, when you put it on and band it to the wrist, open and close the fingers. At less than $100 per hand, I wanted to help someone who couldn’t afford the cost.” Elwell has created three hands in preparation for a candidate. 

For Elwell, whether it’s inventing, making and recording music, being published in electronics magazines, discovering beauty through his camera lens, or creating beautiful woodwork and etchings, life is not about making money or becoming famous. “I invent for my own pride and self-satisfaction,” he said.

To see more of Elwell’s inventions, visit,, and