Students in STEM: Camas-Washougal teens use engineering, design skills to perfect ‘Power Pivot’

Student-created device helps people with limited mobility change positions, avoid falls

(Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Taryn Cavill, 14, an eighth-grader at Odyssey Middle School, demonstrates the Power Pivot device inside the Discovery High School's STEM lab on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Washougal High School senior Zach Ager (left) and Discovery High School teacher Bruce Whitefield (right) discuss a new home health care device created by Camas-Washougal students inside Discovery High's STEM lab on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Silvia Pujol, 13, a freshman at Discovery High School (left) and Jack Harding, 15, a sophomore at Discovery High (right) discuss the work that went into creating their Power Pivot health care device inside Discovery High's STEM lab on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A Discovery High School student shows the inner workings of the remote-controlled "Power Pivot" device created by Camas-Washougal students to help people with limited mobility rotate without having to twist their bodies, inside the Discovery High STEM lab on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A Power Pivot device Camas-Washougal students have named “Pancake” sits inside a STEM lab at Discovery High School in Camas on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

It was a call from one of Discovery High School teacher Bruce Whitefield’s neighbors that kicked things off.

The man’s wife was experiencing limited mobility and was in need of a device that could help her rotate while standing without needing to twist her body.

The neighbor knew Whitefield led engineering and design classes at Discovery High in Camas and worked with a Camas-based, student robotics team — Team 2471, also known as “Team Mean Machine” — that had engineered other real-world health care devices, including producing thousands of plastic eye and face shields to protect local health care workers during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Devices meant for rotating people with limited mobility existed, but many of them were either too expensive and unwieldy — meant more for large health care facilities than for personal home use – or were too flimsy and unstable. “Could Whitefield’s Discovery High and Team 2471 students come up with a better design?” the neighbor wondered.

The Camas, Washougal and Hockinson robotics students on Team 2471 got to work creating a device that would help people with limited mobility be able to rotate into new positions — moving from a walker to a chair, for instance — without having to twist their body and risk additional stress or injury.

Utilizing the high-tech equipment inside Discovery High School’s state-of-the-art workshop to design, tweak and perfect their device, the robotics students created a sturdy, portable, motorized device they called the Power Pivot and applied for a provisional patent.

The students sent their prototypes to Columbia Ridge Senior Living in Washougal and local PeaceHealth facilities, and asked caregivers to offer their professional opinions.

The students wanted to create a device that would be safe, sturdy, portable, remote-controlled, battery-operated, lightweight and easy to use.

“When using a Power Pivot, a battery powered disk provides rotational movement, eliminating the need for users to step or twist,” the students explain on their website, powerpiv otdisk.com, used to market the device to home users. “A user first stands on the Power Pivot disk assisted by a caregiver or supported by a walker. While they are standing, the gears on the Power Pivot disk lock it in place to ensure a fixed and stable platform.”

When the user is ready, they — or their caregiver — deploy a button on the remote control to rotate the disk and help the user turn.

“A 180-degree transfer takes seven to 10 seconds, depending on the weight of the user,” the Power Pivot site explains.

The 5.5-pound device comes with a rechargeable battery that can power at least 50 transfers before it needs to be recharged; anti-skid pads that help stabilize the device; two different base sizes that allow users to fit the device beneath a standard-size walker; and a handle that allows users to secure the Power Pivot to the arm of their wheelchair or a hook on a wall.

The robotics team entered the Power Pivot in the 2021 FIRST Robotics Competition, which asked students to create an innovative health- or fitness-related device.

“The Power Pivot has been an amazing opportunity for team members to come forward to learn and use their skills while creating something that can really help a lot of people,” said Zach Ager, vice president of the Team 2471 robotics team.

Now, the robotics team members and Discovery High students have teamed up to assemble Power Pivots inside the Discovery engineering and design lab — a space that Whitefield said is far more advanced than any K-12 workspace he knows of in the Pacific Northwest.

The students are using the lab’s 3D printers, HDPE plastic and vinyl cutters and other tools to craft the Power Pivots, and marketing them through their website to home users in need of a safe, portable way to transfer family members who are having temporary or long-term mobility issues.

The devices sell for $160, which covers the students’ production costs. The students will build a Power Pivot upon request, and can customize the name of the device. So far, the team has stuck to “P” names for the devices: naming one Power Pivot “pancake,” another “platypus” and a third “pizza.”

“They’re designed to be affordable, and are perfect for home users who don’t want to spend a lot of money on (a similar device),” Whitefield said.

Any profits from Power Pivot sales will help support STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the area, Whitefield said.

Brian Cavill, the lead mentor of the Camas-based robotic team, praised the robotics program as well as the engineering and design classes offered at Discovery High — for helping prepare students interested in engineering for life after high school, and said many of the skills the students develop working on projects like the Power Pivot are akin to advanced college-level classes.

“This is a great opportunity for students to gain all sorts of unique experience designing, building and marketing a product before they’re even out of high school,” the team states on its Power Pivot website.

For more information about the Power Pivot device, visit powerpivotdisk.com.