February 23, 2020
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Disabled group shines in robotics

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Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
graphics, weekly pix, adv weekly folder. 11/5/09.

BY HEATHER STEEVES
FOR THE WEEKLY

Jaimmie Eaton suspects that if her parents had the crib that she and her robotics club cohorts recently invented, she would not have suffered brain damage as an infant.

“When I was a baby I had SIDS. I stopped breathing when I was a baby. It hurt part of my brains,” Eaton said. “I’m the one that came up with the baby inside the crib [idea].”

To help other babies, Eaton and the other five members of the Penobscot Valley Industries’ Amicus Robotics Group invented a high-tech baby crib.
The crib — a model made of Legos — took second place in the group category of the “Invent the Future” Building Challenge in Connecticut, which had competitors from all over New England. The group won $100 in Lego sets.

The Amicus group was the only competitor from Maine — and the only group composed entirely of inventors with developmental disabilities.
The group’s invention is this: A baby — modeled by a Star Wars droid — lies on top of a pad that scans the child’s lungs and heart. If nothing is wrong, a light at the head of the crib remains green.

If something is wrong with the child, the pad will send the information to a monitor, which will change the light from green to red. The monitor calls an ambulance. It also sends all the information to the parents’ cell phones or fax machines.

“If the baby cannot be moved from the crib, the treads beneath the crib will engage as the legs retract so that the whole unit can move intact (including up and down stairs) to a site of medical care,” the group’s original proposal states.

Tiffany Brayman is a program assistant at Amicus who sits in on the robotics group’s meetings. Brayman wishes she had this crib when her baby became sick.

“He had croup really bad and the oxygen was going down,” she said. “The only way I knew was through the baby monitor in the middle of the night — I barely heard him. Had I had the crib I would have known.”

The group’s model would fit in a shoebox. It’s not a working model. It didn’t have to be for the competition.

“They did it [competed] with a tremendous amount of dignity. They knew what they were talking about,” said Heidi Godsoe, executive director of Amicus. Part of the competition included explaining the project to all passersby and then to the judges.

Godsoe traveled with the group. For many of the members, it was their first time out of Maine.

“Our group won second place. All the other people were not developmentally disabled. It’s pretty outstanding — it’s probably a first for a group like this to do something like that,” said Pam Colson Power, a program director at Amicus.

The group started in 2002 when another group — one that focused on comic books — wanted a more tangible way to understand the science fiction devices they saw in the comics. They started making walking robots, including a scorpion that would scamper and hide.

Next in the list of the group’s goals is to build large-scale fighting robots, similar to ones on the BBC America show “Robot Wars.”

“We want to chase the staff with our robots,” said Gregg Smith, a member of the robotics team. “Our dream is to build robots out of metal, but we don’t know how to weld.”

At that, Mark Anderson, a program specialist who leads the group, laughed a little and looked at his boss.

“Wherever this takes you is where you’re going to go,” Godsoe said.