Engineering Inspired Me in a Way I’d Never Imagined

Robbie Woodworth is a PLTW Engineering student at Hays High School in Buda, Texas.

This year, I had the opportunity to design and 3-D print an assistive device for an elementary student named Willem. Willem uses an iPad program to help him communicate. The program has different buttons for him to push, depending on what he is trying to say. From there, it takes him to another screen, which allows him to specify what he is trying to communicate. The assistive device I created is a matrix that helps by separating the buttons and reducing stimuli to help Willem with coordination and make it easier for him to communicate.

The whole process of designing and creating this matrix tool for Willem was very rewarding, especially because I knew that it was going to be used by someone who needs it.

I started off with an outline of the program and the iPad case, which determined the size of the assistive device. I also referenced the old, outdated matrix Willem used and analyzed its problems. It did not fit very well with the iPad case or the app itself, and it was also attached to the iPad with straps, which tended to get in the way. I had to brainstorm and develop a way for the new matrix to attach securely and without being in the way. The end design contained snaps for the matrix to attach to the case.

Finally I was able to 3-D print the final design. After six hours of printing, the matrix was ready for use.

While the designing and the creation of the project was fun, I had the best time meeting Willem, seeing how important this device was in helping him communicate, and seeing how the product really worked. As soon as I sat down with Willem, he kept using the device to tell everyone how excited he was. This was gripping to me, and I couldn't stop smiling. As we sat there longer, I continued to see how much he uses the program, and it was great to feel like I had really made an impact on his ability to communicate. He is just such an amazing and happy kid, and I was so happy to get to meet him and be able to help him in some way. This experience made my day and had a profound effect on my perspective of helping people.

I was also amazed by the work and dedication of Willem’s teachers. It made a real impact on me to see how much they care about the students they help. These teachers work hard to make a difference in students’ lives and go above and beyond to help them progress. Willem’s teacher always had a smile on her face and cared deeply about the well-being of her students, along with all the other teachers and aides in the room.

My experience with Willem was amazing. He had a profound effect on me, and it was exciting to get to see that something I created influenced the real world. I had the opportunity to design and create something that would go beyond just being a classroom assignment and would ultimately help someone in their daily life.

I am so thankful for this opportunity and I'm so happy to have met Willem and all the other great people who made this happen, especially my teacher, Mrs. King, who helped teach me everything to be able to complete this project. This project really made me think about what I want to do with my life. Just this singular opportunity to help someone makes me want to continue helping people in any way I can.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.