Linn-Mar High School InvenTeam
Mandy Rae Candler, a quadriplegic with physical and mental disabilities, had difficulty performing her job independently. Employed by Rural Employment Alternatives Inc. (R.E.A., Inc.), a non-profit institution that provides job opportunities for the physically and mentally challenged, Mandy's task was to label envelopes. Not only was this difficult and strenuous with limited use of her arm, but it was also inefficient.
The Linn Mar High School InvenTeam decided to design a robotic device and workstation to assist Mandy in labeling envelopes, while fostering continuous arm motion that would serve as physical therapy. They named the device the Mandy Automated Innovative Labeler (M.A.I.L.).
The extruded aluminum workstation measures 8 x 2.5 x 6 ft. and the adjustable bench measures 2 ft. 4 inches. The workstation features a bulletin board and cubbyholes for personal items, and a fluorescent lamp for light.
The robot consists of two parts: the label handler and the envelope handler. A 12-volt motor moves a sheet of stickers through a cutting device to create individual labels. Mandy's personal assistant collects the labels and sorts them into a label magazine by size so that the robot may do the next step. The envelopes are fed into position directly underneath the label applicator. The label magazine then feeds into a device that peels the back off of the label and partially sticks it on the envelopes. Mandy completes her task by pressing the labels firmly against the envelopes. Afterward, the envelopes are moved into a tray to be sorted.
The students worked mostly with electricians, physical therapists, CAD experts, and programming specialists at R.E.A., Inc. for their research. In addition to working directly with Mandy and her family, they also collaborated with engineering mentors from the local firm, Rockwell Collins. The team divided into small groups to conduct experiments. The envelope handler group explored the inner workings of numerous printers; the label handler group examined a label peeler; and the label cutter group experimented with paper shredders. The team received supplies and support from Electro-Hydraulic Automation (EHA). This project gave the students an appreciation for people struggling with disabilities, and they were pleased they could make a difference for Mandy.
The team continues to refine the M.A.I.L. and will present the most recent iteration to Mandy and R.E.A., Inc. in January 2006. The project has further inspired the students to create a modular system that is adaptable/customizable to the needs of other disabled people who work.