NISKAYUNA -- Rita Chodkowski of Schenectady has suffered swollen feet for much of her life.
Her grandson, Ben Funyak, is trying to alleviate the problem.
Funyak and inventive friends Sam Fromowitz and Nick Bowman showed off a prototype shoe Friday afternoon that someday could increase foot comfort and decrease foot pain.
The guys talked about their project Friday afternoon during a scientific show-and-tell at Niskayuna High School. Seniors studying research and development showed off inventions they have been working on since the school year started last September.
The new ideas included a battery-operated lawn mower, a medical tool designed to easily flip eyelids and both a wheelchair and a walker equipped with sensors to help the visually impaired.
Rich DeSimony, who teaches technology at the school, said some of the projects were complicated. The teens were tasked with designing gadgets that could help humanity.
"The great thing is, when they go through the design process itself, since they don't have a preconceived notion of what the end result is going to be, they don't have an answer already," DeSimony said. "They actually go through the process and they come up with solutions most people wouldn't think if."
Josh Pauly and William Bechtel worked on one of projects designed to help the visually impaired. Teens consulted with the Northeastern Association of the Blind in Albany, and one association worker said visually impaired people can have trouble with coin-operated laundry machines in their apartment complexes.
The machine prices can change, and when coin slots are taped over or otherwise obstructed, it can be hard for an impaired man or woman to know how many coins to deposit in the machine slots.
Pauly and Bechtel came up with an elevated, grooved mold that fits over the coin slot. People can "roll" their coins to the slot openings. If there is a blockage, they will be able to "feel" an elevated coin by running a finger over the row of coins set to be pushed into the machine.
DeSimony loved the solution.
"These guys have never had to use a washing machine with coin operation before," he said. "They don't know what you can and cannot do, they don't have any preconceived notions for it."
All six projects were on display in the school library, with parents, students and members of the public visiting each station. The engineers answered questions and demonstrated how their inventions worked.
The silicone-rubber shoe works with air pressure. If Chodkowski and other people with swollen feet need more support in the upper part of the shoe, they pump in more air with a small, black bulb-like device. If they want less support, they just decrease the pressure.
Bowman said the project came with plenty of trial and error.
"And we were working up to a couple of days ago to finish it," Fromowitz said.
Funyak is glad the course ended with success. He's also happy the thick, adjustable prototype could actually help someone in the future.
"It's a really cool feeling," he said. "To be able to help people, that's what I want to do when I get older. To be able to do it in high school is amazing."
Evan Dolley and Matt Cutting, both 18, and Jacob Davey, 17, hope to help humanity by helping the environment. The guys removed a gasoline-powered engine from a large lawn mower and replaced it with a battery-operated motor.
"One of the reasons we chose the project was a lawn mower puts a lot of pollution into the air," said Dolley, who plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton in late summer. "It has a lot of emissions. This is 100-percent electric and there are zero emissions.
The red Toro mower with a 48-inch mower deck, which actually came from DeSimony, is powered by three 60-pound, lead-acid batteries. During tests, Dolley said, the machine used only 5 percent of its battery power to mow grass on a quarter-acre of land.
"You could mow five acres on one charge," he said, adding there is a chance high school maintenance crews will someday use the teens' mower on school fields.
Like Funyak, Josh Kent also had a personal reason for his project.
The 17-year-old was on a summer bike ride without eye protection when a small part of a leaf got stuck under his right eyelid. He had to see a doctor, and the procedure involved Q-tips to prop open the eye lid so the irritant could be removed.
"Not comfortable," Kent said. "Really, not good."
Kent, along with Alex Zierer and Trevor Grigas, worked to design a clamp-like device that will allow a doctor to secure the top of an eyelid and flip it over, allowing easy access to the eye itself.
DeSimony said the tool design had to follow some research. The guys also worked with a doctor.
"They had to build a model of an eyeball, an eye socket and an eyelid before they could go after the solution to the program," DeSimony said.
The plastic device, which resembles a long pliers, works.
"We wanted them to be disposable," Kent said.
"And relatively low cost," Zierer added.
Two other teams decided to help the visually impaired.
Lucas Parzych, Jacob Palladino, Tim Smith and Noah Hanft designed a walker equipped with laser technology that detects distance and range. If an object is front of the person using the walker, the sensor sounds off.
"You definitely want it to be noticeable," Palladino said.
Venkat Kota, Argyle Feliciano, Greg George and Gabriel Kammer worked on a similar project. The team installed their sensors inside a manual wheelchair, and worked with a visually impaired woman during the testing process.
"It feels amazing," Kota said the invention process and conclusion. "She said she loved it. She wanted to take it home."
DeSimony said some ideas never make it off the drawing board. Every couple years, he said, students ask if they can keep lacrosse equipment from picking up such strong odors during the season.
"It's not really humanitarian," DeSimony said. "Even though you smell bad, I don't care. Let's find something more humanitarian."
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]