What if you could slide your shoes on without bending down? Or use a walker that prevented you from falling or running into things?
Middle school students throughout the region have come up with ideas to help solve these kinds of problems. And the student inventors are sharing their work this weekend in the Northeast Ohio First Lego League district tournament on the University of Akron campus.
This year’s Lego challenge is “Senior Solutions.” The inventions are designed to make life easier and safer for senior citizens.
The event, however, is considered sports for the brain.
Thirty-one teams advanced to the tournament. The robot competition is 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today inside the UA Student Union, and it’s open to the public.
To compete, the teams choose a senior partner to help them with the theme and tackle some of the issues seniors have in their daily lives as they age, such as walking or putting on their shoes.
“We interviewed our grandparents, a hospice nurse and the president of Adidas to help us figure out a way to design a shoe that would be easy for seniors to put on their feet without having to bend down all the time,” said Ellie Plaster, 12, a seventh-grader from North Canton Middle School.
The team, the Big Brain Theory, comprises three sixth-grade girls and three seventh-grade girls. They came up with the idea of placing magnets in the shoe and a track on each side of the shoe that allows a person to slide the shoe on more easily.
“Four magnets will be built in the shoe fabric and the tracking will be built into the shoe,” said Nicole Tysa, 11. “There are five magnets, one on the toe of the shoe, one on the sole and on the sides of the shoe.”
Kate Lochridge, 12, said you will hear the shoe click into place and when you remove your foot from the shoe, all you have to do is tap the toe of the shoe against a metal strip and pull away so the magnets will unclick.
The girls said it took about five months of brainstorming to come up with the idea. It has earned them a provisional patent for their invention.
Other groups came up with a walker with ultrasound sensors facing outward so that if a person was heading into a wall, the sensors would sense the obstruction and correct the path. Another had feet that came out of the walker if there was too much acceleration to make sure the walker did not get away from the person.
One of the engineers helping with the projects, Sheila King of Rockwell Automation in Solon, said some of the students tried brakes on the walker and a walking hydration cane that could determine whether a person was in need of water.
Another portion of the competition is the use of robots constructed with Lego Mindstorms technology.
“This is not your traditional Lego,” said Shari Tysa, an assistant coach for the North Canton team. “Everything from the motor to the tires and the twisty tie is built by Legos. The robot’s movement is all done by programming. The students don’t touch anything, it is not done by remote control.”
The students recently spent a day at Rockwell Automation learning how to program and build the robots.
“The students have learned so much. I tell the kids to work with principles behind the theory and figure out what to do to get there,” said coach and mentor Heidi Cressman, director of UA’s Women in Engineering program. “If you make a change, make them one at a time, because if you do them all at once you can’t tell where you started. The best solution is not always at your fingertip, you have to work toward change using more sensible approaches, looking more at strategy.”
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.