Robotics team project exhibits REACH for Wounded Warriors

Photos by Edie Koehlert

Edie Koehlert, Staff Writer

“It’s more than just about the competition because we’re actually going to give this to someone who could use it.” says Elliot Albright, the electronics lead of the robotics team, which is building a wheelchair called REACH for a veteran through Picatinny Arsenal— the branch of the army that makes armaments and sponsors many high school level robotics teams. 

The project to build REACH began last year in the depths of lockdown as part of the competition itself.

“We were paired with Wounded Warriors via one of our mentors, who used to work at Picatinny Arsenal. He put us in contact because we were working on one of our challenges for that year— the innovation challenge,” Serena Lee, captain of the team, said. Besides the main challenge of building a robot that can complete certain tasks and compete against others, the competition also revolved around community building. The innovation challenge asked teams to find a real-world problem and use technology to fix it. 

“It’s kind of unique in that it has mechani-wheels, a special type of wheel that allows it to move in multiple directions without turning the wheels, so for small spaces, it’s easier to move around and improve the convenience in life,” says Sylvie Wurmser, co-lead of the build team. The team aimed to tackle the pitfalls of the wheelchair, attempting to make it more mobile and easier to use. Beyond the immense achievement in this alone, they went beyond, making the effort to build it and give it to someone in the community on top of the already demanding competition.  

“The goal of it is to help somebody move around their home and be able to do things like slide behind a desk and move in and out of small spaces,” Josh Stout, the robot project manager, said. 

“It’s taken a lot of time. We finished the wheelchair and then Hurricane Ida flooded the auto shop and submerged the wheelchair in sewage…We had to completely take it apart, clean it, replace all the motors and gearboxes, replace all the electronics, and then we painted it… it’s taken a long time,” Wurmser noted. The destruction caused by Ida in the auto shop has posed significant problems, and now REACH is going through the process of debugging and final touches in order to be delivered in perfect condition to its new owner. 

As Sylvie points out, “This was the first opportunity to get back on the ship after Covid… it had been over a year since we had been allowed to get back in the shop and see each other face to face again.” The team has taken on the task of seeing REACH through last year’s competition. It is representative not only of the great struggle it has taken to get to this point, but also the incredible resolve of this team and the care they take for their community.