Finding a Nonprofit
Our first step in research consisted of visiting facilities and exploring some of the problems that employed persons with disabilities face. The bulk of our site visits were done on a Tuesday that we had off from school. Subsequently, we met once a week after school to continue on the project. We decided on fixing the bone weighing issue at a small, nonprofit dog biscuit kitchen called Waggies by Maggie and Friends.
Research in the Facility
Our first step was to take part in the process of Waggies biscuit making. We learned about the production line involved in creating the biscuits through having each member volunteer to try out a different job of the process, and then rotated to the next job just as the workers do throughout the week. In our first visit, we worked at each station for about ten minutes. We noticed that weighing the bags of dog treats was especially difficult for some of the employees. Here, we found a subject matter expert to help, Becky Longo.
Becky is an energetic, positive 30 year old woman who happens to struggle with impaired vision and Down Syndrome. Her disability slows her down substantially during the scale reading part of the job. Although she excels at cutting and baking dog biscuits, she has trouble with the number sense and sight needed to weigh the dog bones. The process is very lengthy and frustrating for her. Because she needed the help of a volunteer to work on this part of her job, we began to work on turning her weighing job into something she can do independently and enjoy.
In the video above, a team member, Justin Digiovanni, is trying to use the dough roller with the help of the Waggies manager, Maryann Nolan. Becky (in orange) then demonstrates her proficiency in using the machine.
Research in the Engineering Lab
Our research continued with planning out how we can solve the sorting issue at Waggies. We made diagrams, prototypes, and took apart scales to figure out how to make them work in our favor. We gathered average weights for every bone flavor, measured sizes, made our own load cell prototype, and decided upon what control we will use to power our device. We decided on a single board computer known as the Raspberry Pi because it is both open source and will work best for setting weight thresholds on the scale.
The completed version of our project includes a laminated place mat with an ergonomic feel. The start to finish arrows create a pathway conducive to efficient and speedy bone sorting. The "extra" bone area under the scale provides for an organized space to hold bones during sorting. The layout is neat, small, lightweight, and also relatively low cost. There is also a box screwed into the back of the screen to contain the Raspberry Pi wires and controls for safety and durability.
The device adds up to be $189.74, which is a low cost for the amount of effort put in to the coding and the machines included within it, such as the mini TV. There are devices similar to ours known as Check Weighers, although they cost substantially more and are less user friendly. All the items composing our device are taken off the shelf. There is no fabrication necessary to create this device from scratch.
The Testing Phase
We began testing our device as soon as the code began working. Below is a table of our results from the first visit. Here is also a video of Becky using the device after being fully trained in how to operate it.
The Next Step
Now that our device is finally done and fully implemented in the Wilmington Waggies by Maggie and Friends, we plan to build copies to send out to more Waggies across the country. If another business reaches out to us, we can also sell the Weigh Master for some weight sorting purpose. We plan to keep the machine open source, meaning that it can be bought and used by anyone. The code necessary to set up the device will be openly provided on a TinyURL for the user to implement with the instructions provided.
You can follow us on Twitter @ConcordSourceA to keep up with our progress until Source America finals in April. Below is the video we used in our journey to finals.
- We would like to thank SourceAmerica for all of their work regarding people with disabilities and the excellent program that they have put together.
- A big thanks goes out to Waggies by Maggie and Friends for making this rewarding experience possible. Thank you for your hospitality and flexibility, which allowed us to solve a frustrating problem. Thank you especially for granting us the opportunity to compete in SourceAmerica by cooperating with our media analysis, tests, and visits.
- Thank you to our benevolent coach and engineering teacher, Mr. Estock. It means a lot that he held the activity at sometimes odd times of day and scheduled site visits, ultimately leading us to Waggies by Maggie and Friends. Your open labs made this rewarding project possible.
- Thank you very much to every person and organization that has donated money or grants. It has been a great help for us throughout the project to both get a drone for our admission video and to get some of the materials to build our device.