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LASA Robotics Students Give Back with Invention of State-of-the-Art Wheelchair

When students from the Liberal Arts and Science Academy’s robotics club were asked if they were willing to pour two years and hundreds of hours into building a robot for a young man on the other side of the country—someone they would likely never even meet—the class didn’t miss a beat.

“Yes!”

Casey Edgerton, Carlos Gross-Jones, Michael Aldridge, Lane Kolby, Marik Travnikar, Josh Striker, Calvin Stence and their teacher Tony Bertucci agreed, this robotics project would be special.

The robot would actually take the form of an all terrain wheelchair for Danny Cope, a California resident with cerebral palsy. The chair would be able to trek over all kinds of terrain, no matter how rocky, so that Cope could join his family on hiking excursions in the country.

The project first got off the ground after Bertucci met Cope at a wedding.

“I thought building this was something we could do to help,” he said. “I proposed the idea to the team, they discussed it and decided to give it a go.”

The robotics club has a long history of taking on service projects—mostly in the form of leading robotics camps for children in the community. But this project was different, because many of the students who worked on it would graduate before they could see it through to completion.

Two seniors—Edgerton and Gross-Jones—started the project as part of their own independent study, working on the majority of the design, construction and manufacturing and taking it as far as they could before graduating. Bertucci said when the students graduated, the chair wasn’t quite “ready for primetime” so other students, led by Michael Aldridge, picked up where the seniors left off. It was a team effort through and through, requiring more than 350 hours of labor to be completed.

"What is impressive about the LASA robotics team is their ability to balance academic dedication and commitment to community service," LASA Principal Stacia Crescenzi said. "I am constantly amazed at the students who stay after school working on their robotics project, and still find the hours necessary to excel in their advanced courses."

The students did not work alone and relied on support from the community to complete the project. National Instruments provided a mentor to the students, while other organizations—Texas Instruments, Westbrook Metals, Atena Manufacturing, AndyMark, Regal Plastics, LASA Robotics Association, and Dr. Joseph Vaughn—donated supplies and materials. Finally, FedEx agreed to ship the “beast of a chair” to California free of charge.

“The team is an amazing conglomeration of students, mentors and parents who have been using robotics as a building platform for teaching and guiding hundreds of students through the formative years of there upper education throughout the decades of it's existence,” Bertucci said. “They have and do serve a tremendous roll models for the youth of Austin. This wheelchair project is just the latest achievement.

 

See Danny Cope and the LASA Robotics chair in action.