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Eco-Friendly: American High School Students Present Environmental Engineering Conference
Posted 10/5/22
group of students with robotic sorterAmerican High School students and members of Ink and Metal 5773: Arya Kunisetty, Aashi Malik, Manasa Maddi, Neha Shafi, Akhil Ambati, Raghav Daga (not all members shown)

The first iteration of Ink and Metal’s robotic waste sorter was developed over three years ago when American High School (AHS) teacher Julio Navarrete challenged students to come up with a project to solve an environmental issue. 

Some of those students happened to be members of the Ink and Metal 5773 robotics team, who brought the challenge to their team of fellow AHS students, launching a multi-year effort to build an increasingly sophisticated sorter and raise environmental awareness. 

student with sorting machineAmerican High School sophomore Neha Shafi demonstrates how to use Ink and Metal's waste sorting robot.

“So you can just put in a piece of trash, you have to put it in one by one, and then there’s a light and a camera inside and then that takes a picture of the piece of trash. And then using an AI model that we developed that’s in this Raspberry Pi, as you close it, it’ll automatically move toward one of these bins - compost, recycling, garbage,” said Neha Shafi, an AHS sophomore and Ink and Metal member as she demonstrated how to use the sorter at the team’s October 1 Environmental Engineering Conference. 

“And then, it just moves toward one of them, and just drops it in. It’s a pretty simple process… except making it.” 

The project started smaller: it was first a box that classified waste, which the user then placed in the appropriate bin. Some of the team members that worked on that initial project several years ago are still on the team now, with new members and younger students, like Shafi, joining to carry the work and learning forward.

The team has continued to optimize the sorter. A more recent addition is an LCD screen that displays which bin the material is going into, adding an opportunity for the user to learn how to properly sort waste. 

Ink and Metal has advanced to the NorCal FIRST Tech Challenge Championship, an annual robotics competition, and placed in the top three for the past two years for their waste sorting robot's performance and community outreach. 

group listening to presenterAmerican High School student Arya Kunisetty presents on Ink and Metal 5773's outreach efforts at its Environmental Engineering conference on October 1, 2022

Part of that outreach includes taking the waste sorter to FUSD schools to show students not only the design, building and coding applications in robotics, but also to spread environmental awareness and inspire students to solve environmental problems.

The team also took the robotic waste sorter to the City of Fremont’s Earth Day 2022 event to further spread awareness to the community about the ability to solve environmental problems with robotics.

Ink and Metal collaborated with the City to host its Environmental Engineering Conference at the Downtown Event Center to highlight the importance of using engineering to solve environmental challenges. The event featured activities, information tables and demonstrations set up by environmental organizations from Fremont and the East Bay.

One of those organizations was Beyond Terra, a nonprofit founded in 2020 by American High School student Rishi Gurjar and Vista Alternative student Kiran Pothana, to address declining global biodiversity. 

Gurjar and Pothana brought a drone and seed balls to the conference to demonstrate how Beyond Terra is taking action to replant depleted land and restore biodiversity.

balls made of clay and seeds spread on a tableSeed balls made by Beyond Terra to help restore biodiversity

“They’re balls of clay, soil and native seeds. Our goal is to drop them from the air using this drone technology,” said Gurjar. 

“The way that we deploy those is we have two different drones that we’re working on: one is a reconnaissance drone, and one is a deployment drone,” said Pothana. “We use lidar to map out the forest floor topography, we determine the best areas to deploy these seed balls, and then our deployment drone will follow the path that was pre-determined by the reconnaissance drone.”

Beyond Terra is testing locally in small areas, and looking forward to scaling up to larger areas.

“Our entire engineering team is made up of high schoolers, our entire outreach and education team is also made up of middle schoolers and high schoolers,” said Gurjar.

two students with droneBeyond Terra co-founders and FUSD seniors Rishi Gurjar and Kiran Pothana at the Environmental Engineering conference on October 1, 2022

Both Gurjar and Pothana are seniors, with different goals after high school that center around environmental issues and climate action. 

Pothana is interested in Web3, looking at cryptocurrencies: “I want to understand how we can reduce the carbon footprint in tech, that’s why I’ve been working a lot with how these protocols are working, how we can reduce the carbon footprint through mining, and what more green alternatives there are in those areas.”

“I’m really passionate about quantitatively understanding environmental degradation and then solving that through policy,” said Gurjar, who is president of the AHS Science and Ecology Club, and a member of an FUSD group focused on climate literacy and climate action in FUSD. 

That work is supported and anchored by two resolutions adopted by the FUSD Board of Education: “The Roosevelt Resolution,” adopted in February 2022, outlining a commitment to transitioning to a zero-waste to landfill entity; and Resolution No. 030-2021, brought forward on behalf of a group of FUSD high school students and adopted in May 2021, that declared FUSD’s commitment to educating students on climate change and climate solutions. 

“We are actively working to implement the long-term goals set by our Board to ensure our students are climate literate and that our district is reducing the waste we send to landfills,” said Superintendent CJ Cammack. “Building our students’ environmental awareness is the first step in encouraging each student to become invested in the health of our planet, and I love to see our students applying their creativity and skills to address environmental issues beyond our classrooms and after graduation.”

two students with seeds and potting materialsAmerican High School students and members of Ink and Metal Aashi Malik and Neha Shafi host a potting station at their Environmental Engineering Conference on October 1 two students setting up watering machineAmerican High School students and members of Ink and Metal Neha Shafi and Rishabh Athreya host a watering machine at their Environmental Engineering Conference on October 1 group of students with watering machineAmerican High School students and members of Ink and Metal at their Environmental Engineering Conference on October 1 at the City of Fremont's Downtown Event Center


More Eco-Friendly news is posted on our website. Look out for more stories and updates on the amazing work being done in our school community. 

Go to: FUSD News