Students reinvent the locker to help a classmate in need

Students at a high school in Michigan develop a high-tech locker for a classmate with muscular dystrophy.

Many of the moments of social anxiety in high school revolve around the locker -- that tiny piece of real estate that's all yours. So how would you feel if you couldn't access the one place that was supposed to be your personal domain?

That was exactly the concern of a junior at Michigan's Pinckney High School who has muscular dystrophy. His occupational therapist asked the Sean Hickman, the school's robotics teacher, for some help. He, in turn, set a few of his students on the task. 

Micah Stuhldreher and Wyatt Smrcka, both seniors, worked for nearly a year on the project -- and came up with a rather high-tech solution.

"[He has] an optical sensor on his wheelchair, so that he just moves his finger in front of the optical sensor, and it triggers an electric motor to completely open the locker all the way," Hickman says. "When he wants to shut it, he just puts his finger back over the optical sensor, and the locker will shut."

The custom motor and sensor were built mostly from parts in the robotics lab. But Hickman thinks the project's value goes way beyond the parts.

"First of all, everybody thinks it's really cool," says Hickman. "For the student who uses it, it gives him a little bit of a sense of control -- it's nice to be able to lock and unlock your own locker."

School administrators are interested to see if the motor might benefit other students in need. Click on the audio player above to hear more.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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