E-Scholar develops self-driving robot to help people with disabilities

Robots following you through buildings. Prosthetic limbs returning touch and sensation to a person who’s lost a limb.

Think you’ve seen that movie? Think again. These are the ideas of UMKC’s Jeremy Williams, an electrical and computer engineering major and owner of Jyn-X Industries.

Williams’ first product is a self-driving robot with the ability to follow a person anywhere they go. This robot can carry around objects and is meant to help those with disabilities.

“We’re designing it to where it can go upstairs and over terrain,” Williams said. “It can navigate through buildings, which is actually our hardest problem right now.”

One of Williams’ main concerns was the robot’s ability to rise up to the height of a counter. For many with disabilities, bending over can be a difficult task.

Williams said this came from his experience with his own disabilities.

“Having it be able to rise up to counter height was an extremely important thing we had to figure out how to do,” Williams said. “On top of it being able to follow you anywhere you go is a huge thing as well, simply because it’s not just for a one-time use like in an airport. It can be used for a whole range of things in everyday life.”

Williams found his way to UMKC after spending three years in the pre-law program at Westminster University. After deciding law wasn’t the career for him, he dropped out and started planning his next move.

Deciding to fall back on his hobby of technology, he attended ITT Technical Institute.

After he graduated, Williams found he hadn’t landed where he wanted to be, so he started searching for engineering schools.

Williams decided to attend UMKC because his fiancée was getting ready to start classes. He arrived with a few different projects in his head, but he didn’t have a starting point.  

With the help of different programs offered through the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, Williams’ concepts began coming to fruition. He finally had the resources he needed to expand his ideas and build a team that could help him bring them to life.

One of these programs is the E-Scholars program, which allowed Williams to expand the business side of his venture. Ben Gruber, E-Scholars program coordinator, helped Jeremy get involved.  

“I learned a tremendous amount about the business side of everything because I’ve got knowledge in the tech and programming and everything like that, but I didn’t know anything to do with business,” Williams said. “I didn’t know how to run a business, so they helped guide me through that.”

One characteristic of E-Scholars is its mentorship program.

“They got me in contact with extremely awesome mentors that have pretty much shown me exactly what a business should do and how it should run,” Williams said. “It’s hard to put into words the kind of impact that stuff has on very young entrepreneurs.”

One of Williams’ mentors is Mohammad Azeem, a former engineer at NASA. The two met out of what Williams called destiny at one of the mentor matching days.

Williams said Azeem has sat in on a few Jyn-X meetings, providing input on how to improve the self-driving robot’s design.

Williams is hoping to expand his team in the spring semester. His goal is to have a prototype ready for testing by March. He hopes the project will be done within a year to a year and a half.

Williams hopes to eventually market his product to the healthcare industry, so it could more quickly reach its target audience.

“Once we do develop the product, we are looking at most likely licensing it out to the bigger companies, ones that already have experience with people in wheelchairs and have the ability to reach those people quicker than we do,” Williams said. “So we can get that help to those people faster since we all know they need it.”   

Williams has big ideas for his company’s future. His long-term goal is to get into neuroprosthetics and cybernetics, which can help return different sensations to a person with disabilities or an amputee.

“The real goal is to work with exoskeletal suits and just help people,” Williams said. “Just get them to where they have feeling back… an exoskeletal suit can help them walk—not only help them walk, but make it feel like they’re walking.”   

 

nmgvnq@mail.umkc.edu

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