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Carnegie Mellon’s Girls of Steel to Create Fitness Device for Youth With Autism

Girls of Steel, a FIRST Robotics Competition team at Carnegie Mellon University, recently received a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam® grant to create BuzzBand, a wearable fitness device designed for youth with autism who are facing sensory, physical and emotional challenges associated with exercise. Girls of Steel is one of only eight high school organizations nationwide to be selected as an InvenTeam this year.

BuzzBand assists users in maintaining motivation, focus and consistency by applying external sensory stimuli through tandem vibrations and rhythmic beeps. Developed as an adjustable armband, BuzzBand’s portable, lightweight, comfortable and weather-resistant design allows it to function in physical fitness classes, schools, gyms, outdoors, homes or other settings. Theresa Richards, outreach program manager and Girls of Steel mentor at CMU’s Robotics Institute, started the InvenTeam application process last spring and worked with the students over the summer to prepare the final proposal.

The InvenTeam members include Aditi Srivastava from South Fayette High School, Aditri Thakur from Upper St. Clair High School, Diya Cowlagi and Justina Wang from North Allegheny Senior High School, Elise Chu from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, Grace Goslin from Mt. Lebanon High School, Janise Kim from Fox Chapel Area High School, Natalie Ficca from The Ellis School, and Tara Staresinic from Pine Richland High School. The team members will also work with Girls of Steel mentors, who will continue to advise the students through the development of their invention. The mentors are Joseph Jackson, manager of Endpoint Engineering at CMU; Sarah Withee, software engineering consultant at 18F, which is part of the U.S. General Services Administration; and Rachel Thiros, pediatric occupational therapist at Harrison Education Center, Baldwin Whitehall School District.

“The innovative and talented Girls of Steel have listened to parents, teachers, mentors and therapists to create a universal design for BuzzBand that not only seeks to meet sensory-processing needs but also aims to promote inclusive fitness and health for youth with autism spectrum disorders. Their science is backed with evidence-based research, which supports each inclusive feature,” Thiros said. “Along with this research, the Girls of Steel hosted several meetings with top professionals from several disciplines to review and revise BuzzBand. The BuzzBand technology seeks to create access opportunities for all children.”

Over the next eight months, the Girls of Steel InvenTeam will further develop BuzzBand. The team will build a working prototype that will be showcased at a technical review in February and a final prototype for the EurekaFest™ invention celebration in June.

Girls of Steel Robotics is a K-12 outreach program based at Carnegie Mellon’s Field Robotics Center. Girls of Steel offers FIRST teams, workshops and summer camp experiences for elementary to high school students, striving to empower everyone — especially women and girls — to believe they can succeed in STEM. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a “global robotics community preparing young people for the future.”

InvenTeams comprise high school students, teachers and mentors that receive grants to invent technological solutions to problems of their own choosing. The inspiration for these inventions stems from local or worldwide concerns.

A respected panel of university professors, inventors, entrepreneurs, industry professionals and college students including former InvenTeam members now working in industry selected the grantees. This year’s group features Girls of Steel, furthering the Lemelson-MIT program’s commitment to increasing gender diversity along with socioeconomic and regional diversity.

“Approximately 3,000 students have taken part in the InvenTeam experience and 40% are girls, which is encouraging in a time when women represent only slightly above 10% of U.S. patent holders. This work supports students of all backgrounds in developing creative and inventive problem-solving skills that will be of benefit in their college and career endeavors, and in their personal lives.” said Stephanie Couch, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program.

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