January 30, 2016

It was January 12th.  The students of Williamston woke up feeling excitement in the air: it was our first snow day of the year, a sacred part (and silver lining) of growing up with blustery Michigan winters.  The members of our team, however, were excited for a different reason.  It was the day of our on-site visit with Tony Perry from the LMIT InvenTeams ™  program, who braved the weather to meet with us that afternoon at Williamston High School.  During his visit, we gave him a tour of our work spaces, including our laboratory and print room, and displayed our preliminary HANDL prototype.  We then sat down to discuss Project HANDL (Helping the Autistic and Neurodevelopmentally Disabled with Lockers) in its entirety, from finances to team camaraderie to upcoming challenges in the building process.  Taking our project back to the beginning and remembering why we started and what we hope to accomplish helped to put our current obstacles in perspective.  We also discussed what makes a good team, how we can more effectively work together toward our goal, and what it means to ask good questions to clarify, define, and improve the quality of our work.

Selfie with Tony!Selfie with Tony!Showing off our laboratoryShowing off our laboratoryDiscussing Project HANDLDiscussing Project HANDLAs the initial excitement of our first working HANDL prototype wore off, our team realized we have a decision to make as we continue refining our device.  Our next major challenge is zeroing the dial automatically to orient the device.  Our engineers have brainstormed two potential solutions to this problem.  The first is designing a device that uses a laser that identifies zero by a reflective strip placed over zero on the locker dial.  Our engineers have figured out how to measure readings from the laser, so the next step is programming the arduino (or brains of HANDL) to recognize the increased reading (from the reflective strip) as zero. This would then tell our stepper motor to turn and begin performing the combination.  Our second group is working toward using a camera and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, in place of the laser, to locate zero on the dial. Bekum America Corporation has agreed to meet with our engineers to share their knowledge about this software and offer their assistance and advice, for which we are very grateful.

In other technical news, we have started using a pancake motor, a lighter motor that takes up less space, making it more practical for the user-friendly device we are aiming to create.  We are also working to decrease our battery that powers the motor from a 12v to a 5v battery using a power converter.  Finally, our engineers designed a small rectangular block that attaches the motor to the connection piece, or dial grasp.  This not only ensures that the connection piece would be connected firmly to the motor, but also allows it to be removed from the device.  This is an exciting accomplishment because it allows the HANDL device to be used with different sized connection pieces for different locker dials, increasing our potential user base.

Preliminary working prototypePreliminary working prototypeJustin testing HANDLJustin testing HANDL

In addition to engineering, our team is becoming well-versed in the art of presentation through many hours of practice.  On January 18th, we delivered a presentation to the Williamston School Board about InvenTeams, HANDL, and EurekaFest to request permission to travel to Boston in June.  Representatives from our team also presented to the Williamston Lions Club on January 19th.  Williamston is an awesome community and we are so grateful for all of the support and belief in our project we have received.  Coming up, we have several unique presentation opportunities.  First, we are speaking to Peckham, Inc., a non-profit organization that works to provide assistance and job opportunities to people with disabilities looking to gain independence, on February 5th.  It will be very helpful to us to speak with and receive feedback from experts in this community as we move forward with our mission.  Our team is also speaking at the Capitol to our State Representative, Tom Cochran, among others, on February 16th.  We are very excited to have the opportunity to present to this esteemed group of Michigan legislators.

Anna, John, and JustinAnna, John, and JustinWilliamston School BoardWilliamston School BoardLions Club PresentationLions Club Presentation

Another highlight of the month for us was attending the Stockbridge InvenTeam’s Mid-Grant Technical Review.  The MGTR is a formal presentation event each InvenTeam hosts to display to their community the mission, project, and invention they are creating through the InvenTeams ™  program.  Our team was very impressed with their project, the robotics program at Stockbridge High School, and definitely the cool trips they get to take to test their underwater robot prototypes.   It was great for us to be able to interact with the members of their team individually and talk about our experiences, challenges, and progress.  Our Mid-Grant Technical Review is scheduled for March 1st, and while it feels far away in some ways, we are already working hard in preparation.  We compiled a huge invitee list, from teachers, community members, and family and friends  to business owners, politicians, and organizations that aid the disabled.  Our core MGTR team has met to begin planning our official presentation, meet-and-greet, informational tables, and most importantly, the food. :)  This next month will be full of practice and preparation, but we are ready and confident our MGTR will be a fun and informative night of sharing our progress and successes so far in Project HANDL and requesting feedback from stakeholders in our project.

Talking to the Stockbridge InvenTeamTalking to the Stockbridge InvenTeamAddressing invites for the MGTRAddressing invites for the MGTRJustin talking to the Stockbridge Robotics ClubJustin talking to the Stockbridge Robotics Club

In final exciting news: we are two-thirds of the way to our fundraising goal!  We have successfully raised $8,000 through parent/teacher conferences, presentations to clubs in our community, and our letter campaign.  Coming up, we have organized several fundraisers sponsored by local business members, along with presenting to the Williamston Kiwanis Club on March 8th.  Our team is also hopeful we will receive additional financial support during our Mid-Grant Technical Review.

Between presentations at Peckham Inc. and the Capitol, preparing for the MGTR, and working to refine the HANDL device, February is sure to keep us busy.  Keep up with us on Twitter and Instagram (@whsinventeam) and at facebook.com/williamstoninventeam.  Check out our January video below!  Thanks for reading!

January Video: