PVNet students team to create search and rescue grappler

The PVNet students work at the technology center over the summer.

Some kids spend summer vacation relaxing, vacationing and hanging out with friends — not so for Palos Verdes on the Net students Raul Castrellon and Lawrence Goo. This past summer, the two high school students spent a lot of their time designing a search and rescue grappler to fit under a quadcopter.

Their prototype is now on schedule to be delivered to the Los Angeles County Fire Department in June 2015.

Castrellon and Goo initially designed the grappler, a claw-like structure that opens and closes like the toy-grabbing machines that you see in arcades, to just pick up and move things around. But, the more they thought about it, the more they wanted to tailor their design into a search and rescue device.

In order to get their grappler to carry a walkie talkie, cell phone, medical supplies,water, et cetera, to a person who is not easily reachable, Castrellon, who is a senior at Palos Verdes High School and president of the robotics team, and Goo, who is a junior at Peninsula High School, had to custom design many of the parts themselves.

“Our pieces are all custom,” said Castrellon. “Most of the time, we can’t even find a part to it our needs, so we had to design it [with a CAD program] and then use 3D printing. To get it prototyped by a company would blow through our budget.”

While the students are busy perfecting their prototype — with a little mentoring from an aerospace and an electronics engineer — Ted Vegvari, president and executive director of PVNet, is working behind the scenes trying to raise funds for the project.

“We need a lot of money for parts, printing and testing,” said Vegvari. “This is not cheap. We’d like to raise about $8,000 by February to complete and present it to the LA County Fire Department in June.”

Thomas Ewald, assistant fire chief of Division 1 Central Operations Bureau, is on board to help develop the prototype for his department’s use. His recommendation to Castrellon and Goo for possible implementation is that the device be rugged and reliable, simple to use and easily integrated into their operations.

“I look forward to working with the students in the months ahead to give them feedback as they move forward,” said Ewald. “I think it is exciting to see our students focusing on this type of emerging technology to improve our public safety operations. Innovations such as this, have the potential to save lives and reduce property loss.”

Ewald says that the department currently does not have the capability to carry out what Castrellon and Goo are proposing. Therefore, he is eager to see the prototype in action.

“We’re hoping that the fire department will actually use this,” said Vegvari. “But, even if they don’t use this actual model, we are designing it with the hope that it will be good enough to be used for what its intended to do.

“More important,” he continued, “we want to create something to build on, something which will gain momentum for other kids to pursue. We want to build awareness that youth can contribute and get involved with community emergency operations.”

Ewald couldn’t agree more. “Dream and dream big,” is his advice. “As [the students] work to develop this product, they are likely to discover other unintended uses and opportunities that will be beneficial. The journey may be more valuable than the destination.”

Castrellon is one who is seeing many of his dreams come true.

Because his mom works in Palos Verdes, Castrellon has been able to attend schools in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District since the eighth grade, and is now on track to study mechanical engineering at Cal Poly Obispo next fall.

“I’ll be the first person in my family to go to college,” said Castrellon.“Both my parents came from Mexico, and didn’t attend high school. My brothers went to high school, but I will be the first one going to college.”

But until then, Castrellon will be focusing on perfecting his prototype — hopefully with the help of some of his PVIT high school friends.

“I’m at PVNet at least 10 hours a week, but I really like spending hours and hours thinking of ideas and then realizing that perfect idea. But the best part is saying, ‘I made this. I put all my effort into this.’”

For more information or to donate funds for this project, contact Ted Vegvari at 310-544-5395 or visit www.pvnet.com.

Carrie Yamato is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the News.

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