The moment of truth arrived at 10 a.m. Thursday at Sacajawea Middle School.
As teacher Kim Taylor and her advanced engineering students looked on, a police robot wrapped its claws around a metal doorknob and did something amazing.
It turned the knob and opened a wooden door.
Seconds later, dozens of students cheered and applauded their creation: not the robot, which could have busted down the door in seconds, but the special plastic gloves which allowed it to turn the knob.
It was a triumph of engineering – all the more remarkable because the gloves were designed and built by a group of 12- and 13-year-olds.
“It’s great to see how the kids took an idea that they had and took it to fruition,” said Spokane police Lt. Steve Braun, who watched his colleague, bomb technician Matt Rose, work with the robot.
“I also enjoy the fact that they’re actually giving back to the community,” Braun said – something Taylor’s class has been doing for years.
Last fall, students turned PVC pipes and wood into a small slide for the Joya Child & Family Development, then known as the Spokane Guilds’ School.
Thursday’s display, however, was a great leap forward in every way.
The Andros F6B bomb robot, which is shared by the Spokane Police and Spokane County Sheriff’s departments, is about 15 years old and would cost $300,000 to replace.
The plastic gloves designed at Sacajawea will extend the robot’s life, and by extension, the law enforcement budget in Spokane County.
The project’s roots go back to last summer at a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) conference when Spokane police officer Toby Bryer displayed the robot and received an invitation from Taylor.
The project began in January when Bryer and the robot visited Sacajawea and presented a challenge that was eagerly seized by the students.
They had only a few days, “but we got right to it,” said Kaitlyn Hawker, who along with Brooklyn Jenson, Zoe Caro and Ruby Lannigan, designed and produced the red gloves.
All were focused on the task: to engineer some sort of sleeve that would improve the robot’s grip and dexterity. Measurements led to hand sketches, computer-aided designs and eventually to the 3D printer in Taylor’s class.
“We also learned how to work through setbacks,” Jenson said.
Due to a malfunction with the printer, however, the final product wasn’t unveiled until Thursday.
Sacajawea Principal Jeremy Ochse appreciated the moment, seeing the opening of the door as a metaphor for all students.
“Something like this is trajectory-changing for kids’ lives,” Ochse said. “They’re going to make some choices that come out of this one incident that can forever change their career choices.”
But if Taylor’s students have a grip on their future, they also know how to enjoy the moment.
As the door opened, and the cheers rose, Jenson looked at her classmates and said, “This is so awesome.”
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