Vol. 1, Issue 2 -- August, 1995

Influencing Young Minds

By Bob Piech

The children in our schools today are much more technology aware then we sometimes give them credit. This was born out in a recent speaking engagement I would like to tell you about.

On May 5th I had the good fortune of being able to respond to a request from the Drew-Pyle Elementary School, in Wilmington, for speakers on various careers. Dr. Richard Foulds, Director of our overarching Applied Science & Engineering Laboratories asked me to go and discuss careers in Rehabilitation Engineering.

Upon my arrival at the School I had decided to play a little practical joke on the 30 or so 5th graders with which I would be speaking. I drive an adapted van with a lot of high tech electronics which enable me to overcome some mobility limitations. One of these features is a wireless remote control for opening/closing the side doors and operating a wheelchair lift to enter and exit the vehicle. I keep the remote control tucked away in my wheelchair. (It's the size of a deck of cards.) The students were to meet with me initially in the school parking lot (see picture below) and then proceed to their classroom. My plan was to exit the van while operating the controls discretely. I would tell the children that technology has advanced to the point where we can control our environment much the same as Darth Vadar and Yoda from the Star Wars saga. Much to my surprise the charade lasted about 5 seconds whereupon several children asked where I had the remote control. Despite my failure to fool them they were still quite impressed with the special technology in my van.

Back in the classroom I explained what kinds of science and math training are necessary to prepare for a career in rehabilitation technology. We briefly discussed the range of assistive devices used by people with all kinds of disabilities. I ended by stressing how important the work of a rehabilitation engineer is. Without their efforts it would be practically impossible for someone like me to have my own home, have a job, drive a van or even come and speak to them.

No doubt, the seeds have been planted that may bring one of these students to study and or work in our labs in 12 years or so.

Bob Piech demonstrates his independence through the remote controlled van wheelchair lift for Drew-Pyle Elementary School 5th graders.


The schedule for General Assembly meetings of the Consumer Innovation Laboratory has been changed. These meetings will now only be called on an as needed basis. Publication of The Innovator will serve as the primary means of disseminating information and requesting consumer input.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Pennsylvania Brain Trust (the design team researching a wheelchair mounted door opening device) is no longer meeting. There is no plan at this time to continue this work.

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