MAKERS Challenge

Kevin Yin, Raymond Link, Hunter Gruler and Liam Nelson.

The MAKERS of Change Assistive Technology Challenge, sponsored by Southwest Human Development, invites high school STEM teams to come up with ideas to improve the lives of children with physical and developmental disabilities through the use of assistive and bio-technology.

Southwest Human Development is Arizona’s largest early childhood nonprofit, with 40 different programs to help kids.

“By working with both the children and their parents, we have a program to help no matter what problem a child has. Our vision is a positive future for everyone,” said Senior Manager of Donor Partnerships David Reno.

The nonprofit’s annual MAKERS Challenge supports the Adapt Shop, which is a workspace where MAKER’s technicians create assistive technology that allows kids to grow, develop and “live life to its fullest.”

“Three years ago, we had a piece of equipment we wanted to improve,” Reno said. “But when we took it to some companies to see if they could redesign it to be lighter, cheaper and easier to produce, they told us no. They recommended that we get a whole bunch of high school kids to do that for us. Thus, the birth of the MAKERS Challenge.”

Every year in early September, MAKERS officials release a series of unique needs to STEM teams throughout the Valley. These teams then select what problem they want to focus on and solve. MAKERS is open to STEM teams of all sizes and experience levels.

“These challenges have future tech titans applying their skills to create new mechanisms to help people with disabilities today,” Reno said. “Another part of the mission is to instill in these young people the love of helping others, especially kids.”

The eight-week challenge ends on November 7 when STEM teams present their concepts. Teams can place in four different rungs:

Level 1: Proof of Concept

Level 2: Physical Design

Level 3: Data Collection

Best in Show: Best Idea

“For Level 1, teams don’t have to build a device, they just have to have a great idea for one,” Reno said. 

Reno explained that to achieve Level 2, teams must have started taking steps to build a device. Reaching Level 3 means that teams have installed sensors on their device and recorded functional data that physical and occupational therapists can use to analyze how useful the tool is. Best in Show means that the concept is so well done that it will most likely be further developed.

Since the inception of the program, Brophy Prep has been a strong performer and contributor.

“In 2019, Brophy won Best in Show along with Level 1 and Level 3,” Reno said. “Their program is top of the line, well-funded, with all sorts of resources and very experienced. Their team often continues to fine-tune their different solutions long after the challenge.”

Last year, Brophy’s team created a headrest for a child who had head instability. They embedded sensors on the left and right side of the headrest, so therapists could study the data and see how often the child was keeping his or her head upright and centered versus laying it to the left or right. 

In the end, when an apparatus has been vetted and deemed serviceable, MAKERS personnel post the design and results on their website as open source for anyone who desires to take it to the next level.


This year’s challenge

As a team, choose one of Matt’s [the child in need] occupational therapy goals to work on. Each goal requires software and hardware development. Level 1 submissions will plan out how to develop for both software and hardware components with a Proof of Concept for each. Level 2 will require the development of the software and hardware described in Level 1. Level 3 will require teams to use the software and hardware developed to measure the data requested from Matt’s occupational therapist.

Goal 1:

Increase access to personal computer with assistive technology.

Goal 2:

Increase motor control to both upper extremities.