Finding senior solutions

Youth research technology to help senior citizens

EVART — Jim Michael was amazed at the talent of four Evart students who programmed a LEGO robot to navigate an obstacle course, representing a senior citizen crossing a road. “I think they did a wonderful job,” said Michael, 72. “If these kids can do this, it makes you wonder what we’re going to have 10 years from now.” Michael, a regular at the Osceola County Commission on Aging meal site in Evart, was one of several seniors to see the students’ presentation on how innovative technology can be used to enhance the lives of older adults. Known as the Fantastic 4Heads, Micah Wetters,14, Zack Rounds,13, Josh Woods,12, and Nate Woods,11, visited the Evart COA office on Nov. 13 to showcase their project as part of the FIRST LEGO League, a robotics program for nine to 14 year olds. FIRST LEGO League is an international hands-on competition designed to get children excited about science and technology. Teams of up to 10 youngsters work together to conquer a certain challenge by programming a robot to score points on a themed playing field without human interference, and developing a solution to a problem they have identified. This year, the challenge issued by the league was “senior solutions,” which challenged teams to improve the quality of life for seniors by helping them continue to be independent, engaged and connected in their communities. “About a month ago, they came in and talked with our staff about issues seniors may have as they are aging,” said COA Director Scott Schryer. “Now they are back to show us what (they’ve done.)” After talking with local senior citizens, the students decided to focus the research portion of their project on helping seniors at stop lights. Dressed as a road, stop light, car and doctor, the Fantastic 4Heads presented a five-minute skit, introducing seniors to the idea of a downstream signal warning system in stop lights. The system would send a signal to a device installed in the cars of senior citizens and verbally alert the driver to stop. The team then introduced a robot they built to complete tasks on an obstacle course. They programed the robot to be able to navigate the course autonomously, meaning it moves without anyone touching it. Josh Woods explained how the team assembled the robot. “We had little pieces that we had to put together into a robot,” he said. “We built multiple versions and it took us three weeks to come up with this one.” The boys bought the robot kit for $250, with money they each had saved from Christmas presents and earned working. Along with watching their creativity go wild, team coach Jenny Rounds said she has seen the team gain a different perspective of the world around them. “They’ve learned a lot. They work as a team and figure out what to do when they disagree,” Rounds said. “It has exposed them to careers and helped them develop research skills. They’ve learned how to think outside the box, pace themselves and accomplish goals on a timeline.” After a second place finish at the regional competition last year, the team took second place overall again, and first place for their innovative project solution on Saturday at the regional competition in Grandville. More than 20,000 teams in 61 countries compete in FIRST LEGO League competitions each year, with 44 teams competing at the regional competition. The team will advance to the state tournament on Dec. 8. For Michael and the rest of the Commission on Aging regulars, the team’s project was eye-opening to the possibilities of technology. “I hope we do more of this,” Michael said. “It’s so interesting to see what our younger generations are doing.”
View more photos from this presentation at our photo gallery!