Upon landing, I had expected noticeably cooler weather than farther south, but summer was still in full force. Menomonie is a small town, which works great because you can walk pretty much anywhere you need to go. The Stout campus is also conveniently compact. The local community seems open and friendly. The big fair by a lake on the 4th of July was great fun with lots of local businesses and people.
The program itself began more open-ended than I had anticipated. We needed to choose our own project to work on during the program. This seemed daunting for the first couple of days, but once our group put a bit of planning into what we would be doing for the remainder of our time here, it started seeming like more of an entertaining challenge.
Our initial design of an adjustable seat for wheelchairs fell through due to strictly better alternatives already being available, and I was reminded that most any idea we could choose will have already been done, and with better functionality than our available time would allow us to accomplish. We looked then to improve the efficiency, cost, and convenience of general designs already circulating. We decided on a compact robotic arm system that could be affixed to the side of a wheelchair and be stored away neatly when not in use. The arm would have a rack and pinion lift system for vertical reach, and another horizontal track for reaching outwards. The end of the arm would have a claw or whichever manipulator was needed at the time. For my part, I will be working primarily on the electronics and power systems for the arm. We are hoping that the combination of cost-efficiency and a compact design will allow this project to act as a platform for further research down the road.