Manaav Sikaria and Nir Pechuck demonstrate how their device senses the liquid in the glass and beeps to let the person know to stop pouring. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Manaav Sikaria and Nir Pechuck demonstrate how their device senses the liquid in the glass and beeps to let the person know to stop pouring. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Sammamish youth robotics team builds device to help the blind

Student’s visually impaired grandmother inspires spill-proof invention.

An idea for an invention to help people with blindness has lead a group of fifth-grade Sammamish engineers to the FIRST Lego League State Championships.

The Nano Cheetah Bots are a group of seven fifth-grade boys from Samantha Smith Elementary who have formed a robotics and engineering club to take part in the FIRST Lego League season. Their project for the state event is a device that helps blind people with filling up a glass without pouring in too much and spilling their drink.

The team of seven, Maanav Sikaria, Abhinav Vallabhaneni, Nir Pechuk, Amogh Janganure, Aakarsh Balla, Aniketh Cheluva and Alan Duan, have qualified for the state championships on Feb. 11 at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

The Lego league is a part of FIRST Washington (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization that promotes science, engineering and technology in youth through team-based competitions for students from ages 6 to 18. The team is part of the FIRST Lego League, the program for participants in elementary and middle school.

Teams compete at various qualifiers throughout the year to make it to the state championships where the top teams show off their projects to the judges and compete with other teams in other challenges.

To come up with an idea for this year’s theme of hydrodynamics, one of the group members, Nir Pechuck, took inspiration from a family member. Pechuck saw his grandmother, who is visually impaired, struggling to pour a glass of water and came up with an idea to create a device that would help her not have to worry about overflowing the glass.

Their device clips on to the side of a glass and will beep when the liquid being poured into the glass reaches a certain height. The team built the prototype using an arduino, an open-source circuit board and a 3D printed shell.

They found similar products already on the market, but saw consistent complaints in the reviews and wanted to address the problems with their device. In order to test the product and get feedback from the target audience, they contacted the Deaf-Blind Service Center in Seattle and The Edith Bishel Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Kennewick to ask about this type of product and what users would want out of it.

They also went to Sight Connection in Seattle and Hazelwood Elementary in Lynnwood, where they were able to get visually impaired people to test their device for themselves and offer feedback. Hazelwood Elementary, which has a program for blind and visually impaired students, allowed the team to get feedback from other students their age.

“They were really excited about our project and they said we could improve a little bit, making the device beep when it’s on so they know it’s on,” Aniketh said. “They also gave other feedback to add a dial to adjust the distance it senses up to. Overall they were really excited and happy.”

Aakarsh added, “One kid said that she wanted to use it forever because she always had someone pour for her.”

For the Nano Cheetah Bots, this project doesn’t end once they go to state; they are planning to have this product produced and available to whoever may need it. Manaav said they had a provisional patent for the project and planned to do a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to help get production up and running. He also added that the money made from the project would all be donated back into centers and services for the blind and visually impaired.

Atul Sikaria, the coach of the Nano Cheetah Bots, said the team was formed when a bunch of the kids, including his son, expressed interest in joining the FIRST league. Sikaria, a 12-year resident of Sammamish, is a software engineer at Microsoft Corp. and has been helping the team work through their projects and qualifying events.

“This is the second year, it got started because my son said he wanted to do it and I told him to find a few friends and we can do it,” he said.

As the coach, he has had to help guide the team and keep them on track, but he said they always are one step ahead thinking of how to solve problems and take on the next challenge.

“It’s humbling, because it truly makes me feel like I’m from the last century. If you look at these kids, the way they think, the way they do things is very different from the way we were doing things in fifth grade,” he said. “The things that the kids are doing now is just amazing. That was the biggest thing for me.”

The Nano Cheetah Bots team. Top row from left: Maanav Sikaria, Abhinav Vallabhaneni, and Nir Pechuk. Bottom row from left: Amogh Janganure, Aakarsh Balla, Aniketh Cheluva, and Alan Duan. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

The Nano Cheetah Bots team. Top row from left: Maanav Sikaria, Abhinav Vallabhaneni, and Nir Pechuk. Bottom row from left: Amogh Janganure, Aakarsh Balla, Aniketh Cheluva, and Alan Duan. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

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