A team of bright students at Concord High School have invented a device that may just land them at the top of a national competition while helping bakers at the popular Waggies by Maggies and Friends doggie treats company do their jobs a little better!
The device is called the Weigh Master, which virtually eliminates the cognitive confusion involved with weighing just the right amount of dog biscuits for an 8-ounce bag. The scale, which uses pictures and sounds to tell bakers to add or remove biscuits, is a slice of heaven for the bevy of bakers at Maggies by Waggies and Friends.
Before the Concord students invented the interactive scale, the process of weighing could take several minutes per bag. And there was sometimes waste, as bakers filled bags with too many biscuits. Now Waggies bakers like Becky Longo can bag treats in record time – up to 10 bags in three minutes!
This improved process has helped increase the feeling of independence by the bakers and improved their efficiency while at work.
The Weigh Master idea is so good, in fact, that it has landed the Concord Raiders team a finalist spot in a nation-wide invention competition called the SourceAmerica Design Challenge. Bakers and volunteers with Waggies will travel with the Concord students to Washington, DC, for the competition finals April 5th – 7th.
Waggies has been a supportive partner to the group of students every step of the way. The Waggies team hopes that the months of collaborative work and personal chemistry among everyone involved with the project will help land the high schoolers a blue ribbon in April.
Led by Senior Justin DiGiovanni, the team of aspiring engineers accepted the SourceAmerica challenge to create an “initiative workplace technology for people with disabilities.” For their inspiration, they reached out to local businesses and nonprofits to identify barriers to productivity or inclusion and eventually landed a partnership with Waggies.
In its tenth year of operation, Waggies employs persons with intellectual disabilities to bake and package natural, handmade dog treats.
Concord Senior Tanya Nesterova explained that they chose Waggies over other nonprofits in the area because, “They are a small business and very tight-knit community, so we really got to know everyone by name and fully understand their process.” While some of the other nonprofits were more industrialized, the personal nature of Waggies appealed to the designers.
Senior Rowan Davis explained, “Our subject matter expert Becky Longo was the first person we met, and every time we’ve been back she’s always so excited to see us. You can just tell it puts a smile on her face knowing that we’re helping her out. All the connections we made with the other employees and volunteers has been fantastic. They’re just so friendly with us and we built a really good relationship with them,” he said.
The team’s personal connections to the employees, particularly Becky, enabled them to quickly identify how technology could make Waggies run even more smoothly. Mary Ann Nolan, the owner of Waggies by Maggie and Friends, explained that while a primary goal is to employ Delawareans with cognitive disabilities, they must also be concerned with efficiency and productivity. “We are a business; we are also a nonprofit, which is very unique. The bottom line is that if we don’t sell, then we can’t pay our bakers.”
During an early site visit, the Concord designers realized that Becky had difficulty using the traditional scales to package the day’s dog treats, because she was unsure whether the numerical measurements meant that bags weighed too much or too little. Davis explained, “We wanted to find a solution that would improve Becky’s accuracy and increase her independence while decreasing her level of frustration.”
After heading back to their lab to study adaptive weighing technology, the team first came up with various homemade scales they hoped would work. But early versions didn’t generate accurate enough readings. So they invested in a scale with a USB port so they could develop a computer design and coding language that could precisely measure and communicate weight to Waggies employees.
The Weigh Master scale can project easy-to-identify messages like “add more” or a smiley green “that’s good.” After a little training, Becky’s productivity rocketed, which was linked directly linked to the Concord team’s customized solution. Becky then proudly trained other Waggies employees on how to use the new scale.
When asked about the honor of being selected as Finalists in the SourceAmerica competition, the team was effusive in their gratitude for their coach, Mr. Jordan Estock, their mentor, Mr. John DiGiovanni, to the community at Concord for their commitment to the engineering team, and to everyone at Waggies. They are looking forward to competing in Washington and encourage Delawareans who want to cheer them on to follow their progress via Twitter, @ConcordSourceA.