The Penn Robotics Team was invited to attend ATIA 2018 in order to present our project, Mission to Engineer, at a speaker session alongside ATMakers founder, Bill Binko, and president of Inclusive Technology Solutions, LLC Mike Marotta, during the MakerDay. We arrived in Orlando on January 31th and immediately hit the exhibit hall where we were able to meet some of the most prestigious AT providers and witness soon-to-be released technology. The next day, Italia Fields’ presentation focused on cost-effective AT solutions through local makers such as Penn Robotics. “It was an amazing opportunity to present alongside Bill Binko and Mike Marotta,” Italia said, “Both of them are huge figures in the AT Maker community. They taught me the importance of an AT program like the one we created, Mission to Engineer.” On Saturday, Italia, David Li, and Olivia Adam set up a presentation booth, brought an outreach robot, and delivered Mission to Engineer in depth at the MakerDay. Our project garnered the attention of many of the attendees, some noting that this year’s conference was one of the most energetic and memorable conference they have seen.
“In the 21 years of Penn Robotics, this conference was the most impactful community outreach event we’ve ever been apart of.” said Jim Langfeldt, Robotics Coach. Overall, thousands of individuals were directly impacted by our attendance at ATIA.
What is ATIA?
ATIA stands for the Assistive Technology Industry Association, a collection of engineers, manufacturers, and designers who are dedicated to developing solutions to problems through assistive technology. Assistive technology consists of anything that can aid those with disabilities in their daily lives, whether it is a high tech communication device, or a simple switch that open doors. Every year, ATIA hosts an international conference so that people from all over the world can gather to demonstrate, teach, and learn about new advances in AT. The 4-day conference consists of various speaker sessions, exhibitions for AT vendors and companies, a free-for-all discussion and learning session called EdCamp, and the MakerDay, an event dedicated for makers to present their projects to the community.
Why Do They Need Our Help?
While at the event, we learned about how much impact our new program, Mission to Engineer, would have on the physically disabled community. College professors, volunteering organizations, and community members all expressed how amazing it is that we are pursuing a way to fix the biggest problem in AT- connecting people in need of assistive technology to people willing to help. Another major aspect of why the disabled community is struggling so much to find help is because Moore’s Law has not impacted the AT community. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors in ICs double every 18 months, resulting in a consistent increase in processing power. Increases in technological advancement not only drops the prices of electronic products for consumers, but is also beneficial to secondary producers by efficiently cutting down capital costs.
This graph shows the frequency of computer calculations per second per constant dollar, in other words, the amount of processing power you receive per dollar. Moore’s Law teaches us that products released 18 months ago should be half the price of what they were sold at on release. The major problem is that this law has taken place in all electronics distributed in the world today… except Assistive Technology. This means that devices today are still as expensive as they were in the early 2000s, which is far too expensive for consumers to buy. Speech generating devices in 2001 were priced at around $7500, which is the same as identical SGDs today as today. Many people who are in need of assistive technology are unable to carry the financial burdens of purchasing devices at absurd market prices.
There is a rising development in the world known as the “Maker Movement”. Makers use skills such as programming, 3D-printing, designing, and manufacturing to create their own products that are much cheaper than the retail counterparts. Commonly known as “DIY-personalities”, these modern artisans have an arsenal of skills that can also be applied to AT. Unfortunately, there is currently minimal partnership between makers and people with disabilities. How do we connect these “makers” to those who are in need of assistive technology? This is the problem that Mission To Engineer will address.
What is Mission to Engineer?
The Penn Robotics Team has been developing solutions for children with disabilities since 2014, beginning with Hand of Grace and Voice for Braylen the following year. Our most recent project, Engineering Ella, involves Ella Hunt, a girl with SMA-Type I, a debilitating diseases that inhibits the growth of motor neurons, resulting in the atrophia of her muscles. Through ATMakers, we came into contact with Ella and have been providing AT solutions for her daily needs. This project sparked the realization that creating these cost-effective solutions for people with disabilities should available to everyone.
The long-term goal of Mission to Engineer is to create a global network of makers who are available to provide cost-effective AT solutions to those with disabilities. We execute this mission primarily through our website: missiontoengineer.atmakers.org.