Fifteen years ago, FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team Steampunk 1577 started the FRC revolution in Israel. One of the founding Israeli FIRST teams, they are now leaders in their region, with over 150 alumni. Steampunk 1577 hails from the city of Ra’anana, and their mission is to impact people who were not previously interested in STEM, and help them grow. They are one of the most influential FIRST teams in Israel, both with their robots and their community outreach projects. One of those projects, of which the team is incredibly proud, is their creation of a low-cost electric wheelchair kit, designed in SOLIDWORKS.
“The municipal Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team trained in the sports hall at our high school, Avid High School,” explained team member Eden Lip. “The team captain was the daughter of our mentor at the time. Through that relationship, we were able to build a physical and emotional connection with the basketball team.” Expanding on their volunteer work with Yad Sarah, the largest volunteer organization in Israel, Steampunk 1577 began volunteering with the wheelchair team. The high school students learned more about the women, what it felt like to use a wheelchair, and how they lived with different disabilities.
The students were surprised to discover how expensive a motorized wheelchair costs—over ₪10,000, or around $2,800. For most people, particularly those with certain disabilities, the easier-to-use motorized wheelchair was simply unaffordable. But when a problem like that is presented to an enthusiastic and engaged robotics team like Steampunk 1577, a solution will soon be found. And that’s exactly what they did.
“Thanks to the knowledge we gained through FIRST, our robotics studies, and SOLIDWORKS, we developed a low-cost motorized wheelchair kit, which is accessible to everyone, everywhere,” said Eden. The wheelchair kit is made of parts found in the standard FIRST Robotics Competition Kit of Parts (KOP), along with 3D printed parts. The kit connects to a standard, manual wheelchair, the type many people have to rent. But with Steampunk 1577’s design, no harm is done to the chair, and it can still bend fully and maintain its locking system. Adding the parts to a standard wheelchair is a simple way to make the chair motorized and mobile. And the kit is a fraction of the cost of a motorized wheelchair—only ₪500, or around $143, a nearly 85% price difference.
Following their own mission and the FIRST core value of impacting and improving the world around them, Steampunk 1577 decided to make their wheelchair kit open source. “We believe that technology should be accessible to anyone around the world, especially when it comes to medical matters,” Eden explained. “Our kit can help a lot of people around the world who need an electric wheelchair but can’t handle the high cost. We want to be sure that everyone who needs it can get it.”
Anyone who wants to motorize a standard wheelchair can visit Steampunk 1577’s website, download the files, print the pieces, and assemble their kit using the easy to understand guide. After completing their kit, Steampunk 1577 reached out to teams around the world with invitations to join their “low-cost electric wheelchair factory.” Teams from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and other countries are all part of the electric wheelchair journey.
Steampunk 1577 also extended their reach when their electric wheelchair kit was featured in the Israeli media. The team and their kit could be seen on morning shows and read about in newspapers. They were even invited to present their project to the Israeli Parliament Science Committee on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. With this wider exposure, Steampunk 1577 developed relationships with hospitals and organizations and were able to supply them with low-cost motorized wheelchairs, and gain wisdom from professional caregivers and doctors. “We are always happy to develop partnerships that help us reach our goal,” explained Eden, “and we would like to ask anyone who can help to contact us.”
“Our electronic wheelchair program would not have been possible without SOLIDWORKS,” Eden said. Everything in the kit, from the prototypes to the final product, was created in SOLIDWORKS. And Steampunk 1577 continues to use it now as they upgrade parts and features. Switching from a different CAD program a few years ago, Steampunk 1577’s design team found SOLIDWORKS’ UI and functions incredibly easy to learn and use, and feel that the software helped them move forward as a team.
And it’s not just their mechanical design team: Steampunk 1577’s electronics team also uses SOLIDWORKS to design and create their PCBs, and the team holds yearly CAD seminars so other teams and students can learn from their experience. And when building both their FRC robot and the parts for their electric wheelchair, they do everything in their own in-house workshop, using SOLIDWORKS SolidCAM for all their CNC machining. Many team members have SOLIDWORKS Certifications and in 2020, the team hopes to be a fully sponsored SOLIDWORKS team. “SOLIDWORKS opened a new world for us,” Eden said. “A digital world where we could create everything we need to succeed.”
Steampunk 1577 continues to succeed. They were subdivision finalists in the Tesla group at the 2019 FIRST World Championships in Detroit, and won the Innovation and Control Award sponsored by Rockwell Automation. They were invited on stage at SOLIDWORKS reseller Systematics’ annual conference for the SOLIDWORKS 2020 launch. And they continue to grow their skills with SOLIDWORKS and develop and improve their kit, both in its performance and its cost. With their mission to positively impact both local and global communities and teach others to love STEM, Steampunk 1577 has already changed the world.
Thank you to Eden Lip and the team members and mentors of Steampunk 1577. To learn more about Steampunk 1577 and help them achieve their goals, visit their website.
SOLIDWORKS Education offers free software to FIRST teams around the world. Learn more about the Student Sponsorship Program today.