Tyler Bacon, James Hess and Sam Sparkman are at it again. After winning the Southwest Washington middle school Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement competitions in 2013 and 2014 and dominating last year’s state championship, the Jason Lee Middle School AMESAINGs reclaimed victory at state this year.
The pièce de résistance of the competition is the prosthetic arm challenge, in which teams must create functional devices on budgets of just $40. A high-tech prosthetic can cost tens of thousands of dollars in the real world.
“Those prosthetics are often very expensive, so lower-income people may have a hard time affording advanced prosthetics,” said Sparkman. “Our job was to find one that was simple enough to modify on your own, cheap enough that you could build it and efficient enough that you could actually use it.”
Three base models were offered to MESA teams. “We chose to modify the claw because it had the least flaws, and we changed the flaws to make it work better,” said Bacon.
After nearly two years, the AMESAINGs, under the direction of Jason Lee teachers Suzie Womack and Susan Lindenmeyer, have refined their design, which now resembles a hybrid pincer and pulley affixed to a sleeve. To be competitive, the device must have the strength and dexterity to toss balls into buckets and move objects as flat as a ruler and as heavy as a one-liter bottle of soda.
This year, the claw was rebuilt to reduce the weight by about one-third. The fingers were elongated to increase leverage. Nonskid paint improved the device’s gripping ability.
Winning two state competitions has earned the AMESAINGs scholarship money and berths at the national championships. Last year, they took first place in the technical paper category and second place in the academic display category. And while they’re hoping for at least a similar performance at nationals this year, the AMESAINGs say that there’s more to the process than just the competition.
“I like the team-building skills and cooperation,” said Hess. “It’s fun meeting new friends.”