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Tim Balz Leads Intel Interns to Help Others through Connected Technology

September 11, 2014

Balz At IDF

Making A Difference:Tim Balz’s non-profit organization, Freedom Chairs, has gained national corporate support to modify discarded motorized wheelchairs for elderly and youths in need throughout central Indiana. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

The commitment of Rose-Hulman student Tim Balz toward using technology and ingenuity to make a difference in other’s lives has received a monumental lift from worldwide technology leader Intel and renowned physicist/ cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

Balz, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, led a team of Intel engineering interns to design a custom technology platform that can transform standard wheelchairs into data-driven, connected machines.

 The Connected Wheelchair topped Intel’s Top 10 List of the Coolest Internet of Things designs, and Balz was featured in a presentation at this year’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF), September 9-11 in San Francisco, to demonstrate the new technology.

 “This is the next stage in my goal to be involved with things that change people’s lives and make a difference in the world,” says Balz, who spent this summer with Intel’s Collaborators Internship program to attack real-life problems.

Using the Intel Galileo Development kit and Intel Gateway Solutions for Internet of Things (IoT), Balz’s multi-disciplinary team created a wheelchair proof of concept that enables the collection of biometrical information from the user, as well as mechanical information from the machine, that can then be analyzed. The team also built an application that allows wheelchair users to map and rate the accessibility of locations, further enhancing the user experience.

 “Intel is working to connect devices and really changing people’s lives,” said Doug Davis, vice president of Intel’s IoT Group.

Watch Balz being featured in IDF’s Digital Daily show.

Hawking (the self-proclaimed "guy who made black holes cool") joined IDF via video to discuss how technology can be a life-changing force for the disabled. He has a motor neurone disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

"Medicine can't cure me, so I rely on technology. It lets me interface with the world. It propels me," says Hawking. "A wheelchair user can now monitor important information about their health, the status of their wheelchair, and the accessibility of the places they visit…Significantly improving their day-to-day life."

Hawking congratulated Balz and his team of interns, stating "(The Connected Wheelchair) is a great example of how technology for the disabled is softening the proving ground for the technology of the future. These technological achievements are due to the innovations and creative forces of developers like you…Keep pushing and never give up."

Balz was featured in Hawking’s video presentation.

Balz is familiar with wheelchair technology and creating wheelchair projects to help others. As a high school student in Plainfield, Indiana, he restored discarded electric wheelchairs for youths and elderly in need throughout central Indiana. He later formed a non-profit enterprise, Freedom Chairs, and got other high school classmates to help with the process.

During his freshman year at Rose-Hulman, Balz was a student intern at the institute’s Rose-Hulman Ventures new product development center, helping assemble a high-tech motorized wheelchair for wounded U.S. soldiers and other clients.