Tech for a Better World
Continued from Feb. 24 District Enews:
ALS Association members returned to the RHS Tech for a Better World class in February with a PALS (Brian - Person living with ALS) and examples of ALS technology that students could test out. Brian shared his experience with frustrating technology restrictions and his hopes for their improvements. He spoke to the class using his type-to-speech device and how he plans to use an Eyegaze system when he eventually loses his motor function. He shared that he would love to have a backup camera for his chair to make sure he doesn't run into things and emphasized how there are so many improvements that can be made.
After learning more from ALS reps and their special guest Brian, students then shared their project ideas that they would later present and demonstrate during finals week. They ended the class testing out some of the items the ALS rep brought, such as throat microphones, Eyegaze devices, contact microphones, card shuffler, dice roller, tablet white board and switch adaptive call system. The rep shared an example of a device she made for less than $50 whereas a similar commercial device cost $500.
One of the most essential technologies for PALS is their chair - allowing for mobility and everyday functions. The class was loaned a chair from the ALS association so that they could make modifications to experiment and design with.
Students demonstrated their final projects for the ALS Association representatives this week. They showed the incredible things that can be created in such a short amount of time.
Their proof of concepts were remarkable. Demonstrations included:
Ultrasonic device - With the goal of improving the wheelchair’s ability to park, students showed how their sensors, which would be placed on each corner of the chair, would detect how close they were to something. They 3D printed adapters for the chair and demonstrated how lights turned on depending upon proximity to the robot.
Armband control system - Taking signals from muscle movements that are as simple as squeezing your arm, students showed the signal strength based on an LED light turning on, which would translate to being able to control the chair going back and forth depending on the muscle.
Eye tracking program - For PALS who have lost all muscle function, a program such as this detects eyes and pupils and through a lot of coding would then be able to answer questions like Yes or No just through eye movements. The goal would be to have an easily accessible app or website that anyone could use on any device.
Line sensor robot - Students coded an autonomous system using 3 sensors on the front that could be attached to a wheelchair. With these sensors, it can follow a line on the ground in someone's house for example. This would allow the chair to avoid hitting walls, and it uses two stages of logic: one for minor adjustments, and one for sharper turns.
EMG Sensors - Using a device called Raspberry Pi, (a small, single-board computer) students connected muscle sensors to the Rasberry that then has code to see if the muscles are running. When someone flexes their arm, the mouse moves unidirectionally on the Raspberry Touch Display to be able to select something. With more equipment, it could move in different directions based on varying muscle movements.
With more coding and more parts, students will later be able to connect remotely to the chair through a device like an Xbox controller and then be able to explore even more improvements. Students showed how much can be done and improved with basic equipment and that with even more powerful tools they could change the lives of PALS.
“Where this fits in education is different from so many classes - students weren’t presented with a problem to solve - they were presented with an experience of human beings and asked to find ways to help them. Students decided on the way they might be able to improve that experience and then worked on gaining the knowledge and skills that would help in that way” - Mr. McLain.
Mr. McLain hopes to continue to build upon what these students have learned and created for the next class to get even further in the process.