The Children's Institute Blog

Quasics Wows Inpatients With Robots

Posted: Oct 13, 2017 by The Children's Institute

Quasics, the robotics club from Gateway High School, is on a mission to spread STEM and STEAM education wherever it lands its feet. A group of about a dozen people from the 45-member team brought that mission recently to The Children’s Institute, displaying customized robots and inviting inpatients to control a tiny BB8 model with nothing but a swipe on the iPad.

The mission is far from a new one.

“By the end of this month, we’re going to have done 20 or so of these outreach events since July Fourth,” said Sean McMahon, the Pittsburgher who’s been coaching Quasics since it formed 11 years ago in Monroeville, Pa. “My kids are getting pretty good at matching with whoever they’re demonstrating for.”

That was especially evident with one patient with a brain injury whose cognitive level was low but desire to have a little fun was high.

“It looked like she was having a blast,” said Children’s Institute Child Life Assistant Michelle Johnson, who added the girl was using the iPad to control the Star Wars character BB8. “It was amazing to see the progress that she has made here at The Children’s Institute manifest in her ability to play and, ultimately, have fun.”

The two centerpieces of the Quasics displays were a one-foot-tall robot, “Millie,” named after the first female professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and two-foot by three-foot by three-foot robot that drove and took spins around The Children’s Institute’s gym. “Millie” was built specifically for demonstrations from the VEX Robotics EDR kit. “Nike” was the Quasics robot entry in the 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition.

“They really enjoyed it,” Michelle added. “One of our patients expressed interest in joining the Robotics Club at her own high school so she could design a robot of her own.”

Group mentor Nicole Kelly, whose son is a four-year member of Quasics, said she watched two shy inpatients come out of their shell when they were encouraged by the kids to assist them in building a caterpillar robot.

“After they allowed the Quasics kids to help them, they didn’t want to stop interacting with them and the robots,” Nicole said. “Allowing our kids this rewarding opportunity has changed their lives and helped them grow and learn as well.”

Sean, who was joined by coaches Meg Gilmore and Antonio Garcia-Smith, said Quasics usually draws in students who have taken a robotics class at Gateway. But that’s far from all.

“Some of them are naturally drawn to science and technology,” Sean said.

“And we have to impress them,” he laughed.

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