Everyday Heroes Who Used Robotics to Help a Classmate | Reader's Digest

Everyday Heroes Who Used Robotics to Help a Classmate

Two engineering students help a classmate in need.

By Alyssa Jung
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2014

teens by lockerAndy Doupe/Courtesy Sean Hickman
BETWEEN CLASSES at Pinckney Community High School in Pinckney, Michigan, junior Nick Torrance, 17, steers his electric wheelchair to his locker and waves his hand over a sensor on the arm of the wheelchair. A few seconds later, the locker door swings open. The one-of-a-kind device didn’t cost the school a penny. But it did take a year’s worth of work by robotics whiz kids Micah Stuhldreher and Wyatt Smrcka, who were classmates of Nick’s.

The school’s occupational therapist, Amy Uphouse, and robotics teacher, Sean Hickman, recruited Micah and Wyatt to help Nick, who has muscular dystrophy and is largely immobile.

Micah and Wyatt, both seniors at the time, were eager to work on the device. “Before even giving it much thought, we took the locker door to the robotics lab,” says Micah. For an hour each school day, the boys brainstormed, built, and rebuilt various versions of the device until they landed on the perfect solution. Their automatic locker opener consists of a motor and an electromagnet triggered by the sensor on Nick’s wheelchair. “The first time he used it was a really good moment,” says Micah.

Nick’s mother, Jean Torrance, says the device has given her son independence.

Wyatt and Micah are now engineering students at Lake Superior State University in Michigan, but other Pinckney robotics students will continue to replicate and improve the device. “Two more kids will receive one,” says Amy. “Every student should be able to open his own locker.”