Students at Pasadena City Community College develop tools for the visually impaired

At team of students from Pasadena City Community College Fab Lab, designed a pretty awesome tactile map that is helping visually impaired students at Francis Blend Special Education Center  in the Los Angeles Unified School District, navigate school grounds.


The Pasadena City College Fab Lab is a pretty special place, because it provides students who are working on strengthening basic skills in math and English with the opportunity to learn these things in a real-world, hands-on context. With the support of Salomon Davila, Dean of Career and Technical Education, Deborah Bird, Director of the Design Technology Pathway at Pasadena City College and Joan Horvath, a local 3D printing expert, the team of students designed and modeled the map using CAD software and 3D printed the map in the Fab Lab.

Here’s a great video with more details:

The result was a foldable map, portable map, created by Sandra Perez, Bryce Van Ross, Carlos Andrade, Chi Yeung Chiu, Joseph de Alba and Peter Ngo. The team also had the opportunity to present their work at the 2015 Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference.

The map continues be used by students at Francis Blend Special Education Center, several years after the team started working on this project.


Travis Good, The Things Network

How could you connect your devices to the Internet without WiFi or 3G? In an age of increasingly smart objects that talk to one another and have the capacity to collect all sorts of data, from your thermostat to your car, there are numerous possibilities for harnessing this information towards things like energy efficiency, saving money and better understanding user needs.

A project called The Things Network (TTN) aims to develop a network that makes it possible for Internet of Things enabled devices to connect and talk to one another without a direct connection to the Internet. TTN uses a long range and low power radio frequency called LoRaWAN. The network is made up of a series of nodes. One node can communicate for up to 15 kilometers for as long as three years on a single battery, which makes the network very efficient. It’s also cheaper to build than traditional broadband networks since the hardware is lower in cost.

Makers and hackers around the world are getting together in their communities to develop local TTNs.


In San Diego, CA, Travis Good is leading one such group. To date they’ve hosted a workshop at the La Jolla Library where they were able to get a version of the network up and running. They were even able to collect temperature and barometric pressure data through the nodes that they set up. In collaboration with the City of San Diego, Travis will gain access to 34 public library roofs, where makers, hackers and innovators will be able to use the infrastructure of their city as a lab. There are lots of different ways you could use the network- environmental monitoring and building out the infrastructure for a smart city are several of these. Moving forward, the network could be used as a platform for environmental impact hackathons hosted by the city too.


Cesar Jung-Harada, MakerBay

About two years ago, Cesar Jung-Harada, moved from San Francisco to Hong Kong with the  aim of creating a maker space where people could specifically work on finding solutions to environmental and social challenges. MakerBay is located in an old industrial building in the Yau Tong area of the city and is a couple blocks from Kowloon Bay.

Prior to starting up MakerBay, Cesar developed a shape-shifting, sensor-laden ship called Protei. Cesar and his colleagues originally designed the ship to help clean up the BP Oil Spill that took place in 2010, but the project has since expanded to also serve as a platform for scientists, engineers and makers to collect data about the health of the ocean and other bodies of water and help transport scientific tools and equipment. Recently, Cesar launched Scoutbots, a community of  people developing open technologies to explore and protect the oceans.


Makers at MakerBay are also looking at helping to address a critical environmental issue facing their bay and the world’s oceans: the decimation of coral reefs due to global warming. The common method of measuring coral reef growth involves scientists using a basic tool called a quadrat. But there a number of issues associated with using the quadrat sampling approach- it can damage the coral and it’s time intensive, requiring divers to spend extensive amounts of time taking measurements submerged.

Cesar has been working with a team which includes local students to develop a laser quadrat that could more effectively and efficiently assist in coral reef mapping. You can check out the prototype that they developed below. If you go to 5:09, you’ll see the group testing their prototype in Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in Hong Kong. Nothing more satisfying than building your prototype and getting to test it in your own backyard, on your own coral reef.


Blaze Starkey, Defenders of the Water School

The Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota is located along the proposed Dakota Access pipeline route and was created to protect the land, culture and the precious natural resources that sustain the Lakota, Nakota & Dakota citizens. Community members at the camp have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline as Water Protectors.

Since the camp was created, children have been residing there with their families. Even now, in the frigid winter temperatures, families continue to remain at the camp. In August of last year, the Defenders of the Water School was created to provide the kids with learning opportunities that engage them in the rich cultural traditions of their ancestors and elders and teach them about the world from the perspectives of their tribes. These include things like drum making and creating winter counts, tanned and painted buffalo hides which visually depict stories and events. The school is also focused on getting the students socially engaged in what’s happening around them right now and teaching them about the importance of preserving and protecting the rich natural resources of their land.


The school currently serves about 20 students, ages 6-14. The team of educators includes Blaze Starkey, a Lakota educator from Standing Rock and his colleagues, Alayna Eagle Shield, who founded the school, Teresa Dzieglewicz and Jose Zhagnay. They work with the students in several traditional structures, including teepees, a yurt and a longhouse. Due to the recent flooding of the Missouri River, they are in the process of moving the physical location of the entire camp, including the school.

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Although the camp is undergoing a transitional period, the school will continue and Blaze has big ideas for the kinds of things that the students could do this year. There are plans to introduce programming through Python. Instead of learning to program in English, the students would program commands in Lakota. They want to create more opportunities for students to come together with the adults in their community and work on projects to solve challenges across generations. Making the school run on entirely renewable energy is one such idea.

The Defenders of the Water School team are looking for individuals who would be interested in sharing their skills and knowledge with their students and have created a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds. While the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline is still uncertain, what is certain is that the students and educators of the Defenders of the Water School  and their community have grit, determination and hope.

D-Zign Girlz, Brookwood School

The D-Zign Girlz at Brookwood School in Manchester-By-The-Sea, MA are taking their knowledge of 3D modeling and 3D printing to new heights. This group of 6th grade girls worked with residents of the Harborlight House, an affordable housing residence for seniors in their community. While spending time there, the students identified problems that residents were facing and then worked closely with each resident to prototype, refine and develop a low-cost 3d printable solutions.

Gracie worked with Joan, who liked to play cards, but had a torn rotator cuff, making it difficult for her to hold up her cards for an extended period of time. Gracie developed a customized cardholder to meet her needs.


Addie worked with Lorraine to design a special key holder that would make it easier for her to hold and turn the key to enter her room.


The projects that the D-Zign Girlz tackled are part of a larger effort to identify problems around the community that can be solved by 3D modeling and 3D printing. Rich Lehrer, a science teacher at Brookwood School, started the 3D Problem Bank a couple years ago and its been a great way to inspire students to find problems they care about in their backyard and figure out create ways to solve them.


Eric Maundu, Kijani Grows


Growing up in Kenya, Eric understands the challenges faces with farming in low-resource environments. Through his organization, Kijani Grows, Eric has been developing large and small scale aquaponic systems to make it easier for individuals to grow their own fresh food sustainably, even if they don’t have much space or live in a food desert. One of the coolest things about Eric’s aquaponic systems is that they’re smart- really smart, because Eric designed customized hardware that lets you monitor things like temperature, humidity, pH and CO2 levels and a way to easily visualize the data to see how your aquaponic system is doing day by day. Eric previously worked out of American Steel Studios in Oakland, CA and is now a resident at Manylabs in San Francisco.