Rivertowns Enterprise – the hometown newspaper of Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley and Irvington, New York

 

December 24, 2010


Curb-conquering device earns patent


By Claribel Ortega
TIM LAMORTE/RIVERTOWNS ENTERPRISE

Jonathan Goldszmidt demonstrates the curb-conqueror by rolling onto a platform.

 


ARDSLEY — Eye-opening statistics show that 1.6 million Americans use wheelchairs, and most of
these wheelchairs are manual devices. In today’s technological age, there are a plethora of  mechanical options for those who are wheelchair bound, but most can’t afford it. Thanks to the patenting of an invention by Ardsley High School students, one of the recipients of the 2007 MITLemelson InvenTeam grant, wheelchair users might have another, more affordable option to add to the list.


The story begins in 2006, when an advertisement
for the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam grant, a grant established to promote invention on both the high school and college levels, was sent to the home of
AHS biology teacher Ahron Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld promoted the call for new inventions throughout the school. Subsequently, “We had a meeting and many kids showed up,” he said.


As a group, the students brainstormed and by the end of the meeting had come up with the final four ideas: a chocolate cup with chocolate and marshmallows imbedded in the cup, to which consumers would only need to add hot water to make hot chocolate; a Pez-dispenser-style mailbox with removable trays; an automatic barcode file cabinet; and Benjamin Barber’s suggestion, the wheelchair ramp. The ideas were sent out to the entire school in the form of a survey and the wheelchair ramp won, albeit by a small margin. “A lot of people liked the hot chocolate cup,” said Rosenfeld.


“The kids had in mind a people who had a regular non-motorized wheelchair and they wanted to develop an invention which is cheap, so that if the government ever funds it, it’s just a quick attachment that you could put on to any wheelchair,” said Rosenfeld. The other factor that went into deciding to go on with the wheelchair ramp invention was that despite the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires every sidewalk to have a curb cut, not every one does and, according to Rosenfeld, “not every community has the money to redo all their curbs, it’s very costly.”


Students, along with advisers Rosenfeld and Ardsley Middle School technology  education teacher David Ponterio, met that summer and began their building process by going to Home Depot and walking up and down the aisles.


“I’m a biologist, I’m not a welder,” said Rosenfeld. “Dave knows everything — he has all the tools, saws, and every type of contraption,” he added.


Ponterio, a resident of Amawalk who has taught at AMS for 21 years, said, “Doc Rosenfeld and some of the high school students came after me because a large portion of my class is dealing with mechanical systems and processing materials. So I was able to help them bring their inventions to life. I was able to take them from conception to production.”


Rosenfeld said the students laid out the supplies from Home Depot “in the true MIT way — the MIT philosophy is that you lay stuff out on a table and that’s how you come up with a design.” The team also went to Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla to have a discussion with two of the physical therapists to research what features should go into the invention.


The wheelchair attachment’s conception could mean a low-cost alternative for  wheelchair users seeking more independence. The attachment has circular devices on either side, which with the wheelchair user’s help, extend a telescoping device that is attached by a swinging bolt, to alleyway ramps. “We choose the alleyway type of ramps so that way the person’s wheels wouldn’t fall off, so the person would be guided once you get the front wheels on the curb, what’s going to happen is then you use your regular wheels, and you roll over the ramp. So really, the device is just deploying the ramp, and you use your own strength to go up. Once you’re over the ramp, the device is behind you and you use the circular devices to swing the ramp over and go back to stowed position and away you go,” explained Rosenfeld.


After months of work and preparation, the AHS students — Barber, Richard Bordoni, Julia Brady, Max Brivic, Michael Cornell, James Doerhoff, Jonathan Goldszmidt, Jeffrey Rovenpor, and Sahib Singh — were notified that they would be receiving the $10,000 grant, and began testing their invention, originally called the wheelchair curb-conqueror, on a small scale. Utilizing a toy wheelchair, cardboard, and tin foil they built the small-scale model of the device to determine whether or not it would actually work. “We worked various nights and did brainstorming, and we found out what worked and what didn’t work and what we had to readjust. The kids were learning everything that happens in a real invention process,” said Rosenfeld.


While the wheelchair went through its many different design changes, Rosenfeld received an e-mail from Harvey Diamond, president and CEO of Drive Medical Design and Manufacturing, a medical device company based in Port Washington, N.Y., offering his assistance after Diamond provided one of his wheelchairs for

a CBS report demonstrating how the device worked. Diamond donated a wheelchair and brake device, which the students needed for the invention. “He was pretty helpful,” said Rosenfeld of Diamond, a Westchester County resident whose three sons all attended AHS. Over the course of time, things came together although, Rosenfeld admits, at times they thought it wouldn’t happen.


In June of 2007, a little more than a year after Rosenfeld received the original advertisement, the AHS InvenTeam was among the 25 winners in the nation invited to present their curb-conqueror at the Odyssey event held at MIT. All the grant winners got together and displayed their prototypes to engineers, other teams, and the public.


“Every kid on the team had their own individual strengths — it was a great team,” said Rosenfeld.


Cornell, now a sophomore at Northwestern University majoring in engineering, said, “I’ve always been interested in doing these sorts of projects, and it sounded interesting so I started going to the meetings.” The 19-year-old told the Enterprise in an interview this week that the project influenced him in his choice of major. “I realized how much I like the design experience, variants, and coming up with products that could benefit people in the long run,” he said.


Of the process, Cornell said, “I enjoyed it very much, it was difficult at times but it was definitely a great experience. We were working three, four nights a week for three, four hours at a time.” He counts the invention process and MIT event among the highlights of his high school experience.


For his part, Ponterio described the process as “grueling but absolutely worth it.”


“It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done in my entire life, because we’re trying to do something that doesn’t exist. There were no answers to this system that we created. There was nothing that already existed so we had nothing to look at, we had to come up with our own ideas as to how we were going to put this together and that made it very challenging,” he said.


The invention began a whole new chapter when Mark Montague, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, and more specifically patents, became involved. Montague had been speaking to the Inventors Club at Concord Road School about patents since roughly 2003. Montague was approached by the AHS InvenTeam after a parent suggested the students patent the curb-conqueror. “Somehow that suggestion found its way down to the elementary school science teacher, who I have known for many years, so that’s how I got involved.”


In 2007 Montague met with all the students involved, their parents, and Rosenfeld and Ponterio, and had a meeting to “talk about patenting, what it means, and what it’s all about. And then they showed me their invention. I don’t use these terms lightly, but I was sort of blown away with what they came up with, and I offered to try and get a patent for them at no cost.” The nine families split the $1,500 patent office fee.


Montague filed for a patent for the “Curb Climbing Wheelchair Attachment” on Oct. 16, 2008. The patent was approved over the summer of 2010. Montague said he feels “great” about being involved with the invention. “Some parents felt bad that I wasn’t being paid, but I get more out of this than the work that I do get paid for,

because I believe in it, it serves such a great purpose, and it’s by high school kids. It shows high school kids are able to invent as well as adults are able to invent, and sometimes better,“ he said.


“The patent is really a nice cherry on top of the cake, a culmination of hard work and saying ‘You developed something that no one else has developed.’ And the greatest piece is someone really might be benefiting from this invention,” said Rosenfeld.


All those involved agree that the next step in the project is working out the kinks in the system and marketing the device to a company.


“The kids are not in the business of making these devices in their garage, so they need a higher entity to help them,” said Rosenfeld, who expressed confidence that with more funding and a few more years, they will be able to perfect the design.


Cornell, who is also hoping to modify the invention to make it better, said he’s “learned how to work as a team” and added that the experience also helps him with his college coursework and has taught him, “If you can see something through and you have a good idea, you actually could make something out of it.”


“We wouldn’t have been able to go to MIT without the financial support of the board; we wouldn’t have been able to build it if it weren’t for Dave Ponterio and his tech savvy and use of tools; we wouldn’t have been able to get it patented unless it was a parent community member. So it’s a community product, really,” said Rosenfeld.


Cornell was quick to point out that in his opinion, Rosenfeld and Ponterio were the driving force behind the InvenTeam’s success.


With a bright future ahead of him, and the excitement of the wheelchair attachment’s possibilities, Cornell credits both his teachers and his education at AHS for this great accomplishment. He added, “I think it shows what Ardsley students can do — the resources that we have available to us to make something that could actually make a difference.”



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