UA program director helps young inventors capture Reebok’s attention


Sylvia Cressman (left) Kate Lochridge build a BBT Shoe prototype for First Lego League regional competition. The wearer-friendly shoe was created by the young inventors to help seniors with difficulty bending over to put on their shoes. Creating an innovation to make life easier for the elderly was one of three parts of the Lego competition.

The great edifice of the future is built one block at a time — sometimes, quite literally, with LEGO blocks.

Heidi Cressman, mechanical engineer and director of The University of Akron's Women in Engineering program, leads a team of local middle school girls in the Northeast Ohio LEGO League District Tournament — anything but "child’s play" — in which 31 teams of fourth through eighth grade students from Northeast Ohio construct LEGO robots that assist the elderly.

Cressman's team of brainy girls, Big Brain Theory, will present their robot — one that is programmed to perform missions to assist seniors, such as selecting and retrieving a desired prescription bottle from a group of others — to judges to at the First LEGO League Northeast Ohio district competition Jan. 12-13 at UA.

Inventive spirit guides team

Cressman, whose seventh-grade daughter Sylvia is on the team, is determined to inspire the entrepreneurial and inventive spirit within her Big Brain Theory team members.

Big Brain Theory team members from left to right: Kate Lochridge, Emily Czubaj, Nicole Tysa, Ellie Plaster, Caitlin Zollinger and Sylvia Cressman.

In keeping with the LEGO competition’s theme, centered on providing assistance to senior citizens, the North Canton Middle School students developed a special shoe that, at the tap of a foot, automatically fits itself to the wearer’s foot. Those who are unable to bend down to put on conventional shoes can merely place their feet onto the soles of the BBT Shoe, named after the Big Brain Theory team, and watch as the outer shells enclose snugly around their feet. The North Canton students are in the process of filing a provisional patent on the shoe.

"There is nothing like this currently being patented," says Cressman. She indicates that people in the health care industry are excited about the shoe, and that it may be used by veterans and children.
The innovation is so promising, in fact, that Reebok has agreed to advise Big Brain Theory on shoe material selection and style. Cressman is planning a meeting with a Reebok executive to further discuss the possibilities.
Following their presentation to the judges on Saturday, Big Brain Theory members will participate in team activities that emphasize "core values," such as teamwork and ingenuity. On Sunday, the team's robot competes against rival robots in several "missions," and the tournament concludes with a 2:30 p.m. awards ceremony.

 Story by Nicholas Nussen

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