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Bloomfield Robotics Team

Ten students from East Hills Middle School in Bloomfield Hills on the GEKOT (Great Engineering Kids of Tomorrow) FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) LEGO Robotics Team would create a collision alerting technology system for scooters that lets riders know about potential hazards, such as pedestrians, cars and bicycles. In addition to the impressive invention from this project that took place in 2019, their efforts would stretch even further when they earned a U.S. patent earlier this year.

Their coach, Dan Champoux, who has headed up the GEKOT robotics program for nine years, led the students through the patent process, prototyping and competition. Two students share some background information about the experience.

Elias Cengeri, now a freshman at Oakland Christian School in Auburn Hills, was a fifth-grader when he was on the team. For this particular project, he explained that the challenge was how to make cities better, and the e-scooters often found in urban environments seemed like a good fit.

As Cengeri explained, their coach reached out to e-scooter manufacturers, including Razor. “We were super excited when they sent some e-scooters to us so we could modify the design,” Cengeri said.

Their invention has the potential to make e-scooters safer.

“The collision alerting technology system for electric scooters features a box with sensors to tell the rider there’s an object in proximity. We would mount it right onto the scooter,” he explained.

There were bound to be challenges along the way. “The biggest challenge was to figure out how all the sensors would connect together,” Cengeri said. “We’re just a bunch of kids. We didn’t know everything about scooters.”

The national patent would make their perseverance pay off. “We didn’t expect it to get as big as it did,” he said. The free scooters from Razor were among the other perks.

So, what’s next for this bright high school student? He has yet to pick his career path, but Cengeri is currently looking into cybersecurity.

Another team member, Avani Nandalur, now a ninth-grader at the International Academy Okma in Bloomfield Hills, was also in fifth grade when she began working on the project.

Nandalur feels grateful for the experience. “It was really rewarding to get somewhere with the robotics competition. It was a lot of work, but it was great to see the patent actually come to life,” she said. “Within the team we would sometimes disagree, but, in the end, we were able to work it out.”

She was set on being an engineer for a while now, but she is currently in a floating zone. Whatever profession Nandalur pursues, this experience taught her important skills that will serve her well.

“I am now able to work on a project for a longer period of time and I have a better ability to problem solve,” she said.

She also thinks their invention could have a future. “We have a patent, so I think this type of product could be manufactured,” Nandalur noted.

For now, she would like to encourage other students to consider these opportunities.

“We would build a scooter and take it apart and I got to use saws,” she said. “It was a really great experience for me. I recommend robotics for kids. You learn a lot, not just about building, but teamwork and getting through hard times.”

Story: Jeanine Matlow

Photo: Chris Ward


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