Team Noogel answers call of helping ACC

by: STAFF PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Team Noogel is ready for another senior solution session. In front are Kevin Tsai and Sophie Villeneuve. In back, from left, are Jack Bride, Clay Skeen and Kyle Murphy.When it comes to the problem of senior citizens falling,Team Noogel is coming up with a better idea.

This robotics team of brainy youngsters from Lake Oswego elementary schools is participating in the 2012 Senior Solutions Challenge, and they have offered their services to the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, thus proving it’s never too early to start a career in science and make the world a better place.

The team was formed three years ago by coaches Hans Tsai and Wan-Shu Lu, and it has already put in nine weeks on the project.

Lu said, “Our goal is to have them really know about engineering at an early age and know it’s a fun activity.”

True, the Noogels are very, very young. Jack Bride is the oldest member at only 11 years old. Everyone else — Kyle Murphy, Clay Skeen, Kevin Tsai and Sophie Villenneuve — is 10. At times all of their laughing makes it difficult to get work done. But they are loaded with intelligence, energy and determination, plus a love of Legos, which is why they formed the team in the first place.

“They want to have fun, number one,” said Tsai, a software engineer who hosts this vibrant group in his home every Sunday.

But you can fit an awful lot under under the banner of fun, and the kids are serious about helping the senior citizens at the ACC.

“Once they invent a solution, they have to actually prove it’s realistic,” Tsai said. “It has to be a new solution, and it has to be better than what went before. It also has to be cost effective.”

After interviewing senior citizens at the ACC and identifying problems they face, Team Noogel decided to deal with the problem of falling.

“When they fall there’s danger that they’ll break their hips,” Villenneuve said. “They could become immobilized for the rest of their lives.”

“We’d like to help them keep their balance and stabilize them on their feet,” Bride said. “Signals could be sent out if they’re leaning too far forward.”

The kids are considering making clothing containing sensors that give out signals when an elderly person is falling. The sensor pack could be worn on pants or vests and it would be made out of the totally amazing nanofabric, which is water proof, stain proof, bacteria proof and really light. The team members would partner with a senior citizen, usually a family member, to see if their idea really works and to get feedback on how to improve it.

“This project helps kids understand the research process,” Tsai said. “It’s really solid groundwork for their futures, dealing with real people in the real world.”

It’s a tough task, but Team Noogel has much going for it. Despite being so young, they have been friends practically since birth. All of the members have special roles they play on the team. Villenneuve is a software programmer and an excellent writer. Kevin Tsai and Skeen provide hardware expertise. Bride has the gift of gab and is the sales expert. Also, as he points out, “I’m great at science.” Murphy is very down to earth.

“Kyle helps the team stay focused when they get a little out of control,” Tsai said.

As Team Noogel prepares its senior solution it is also getting ready for the state championship for Lego robotic teams. This past January the Lake Oswego kids won the prize as the best young team. But you can only win that award once, and for 2013 Team Noogel is going for the honor of the best team. Period. Team spirit is high. Their future looks very, very bright.

Lu said, “It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to realize that what they do right now may have a real impact on the community beyond fun and the tournament.”

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