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Amazing Grace

Varittha Manorotchaturong, also known as Grace, has certainly come a long way since starting at Ruamrudee International School (RIS) in kindergarten. Now a Junior in high school and at only 16 years old, she is already an award-winning inventor and innovator, taking home the top prize at the Geneva International Exhibition of Inventions, the world’s largest annual event devoted exclusively to inventions, for her anti-topple wheelchair kit.

This year’s Geneva exhibition saw 35 entries from Thailand, represented by 17 institutions ranging from leading universities and international schools to big-name companies. There were 26 medals awarded. Grace, who entered the competition under Ruamrudee International School (RIS) and the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), is the only entry who was awarded Gold with Congratulations of the Jury—a truly remarkable feat considering that there were over a thousand inventions from 425 countries this year alone! 

Like many other outstanding students who started at RIS at an early age, one of the key attributes Grace most appreciates about the school is its community. For Grace, the variety of AP and IB courses, along with the many clubs and team-building activities that students can get involved in, have helped her develop her passions, interests, and leadership skills. Her achievements of late also perfectly exemplify RIS’ Principles of PhoenixHead (knowledge); Hands (skills); and Heart (values).

Taking a short break from her understandably busy schedule of juggling high school life, extracurriculars, and enterprising endeavors, Grace was kind enough to tell us more about her wheelchair kit and inspiration for it; her experiences on the exhibition circuit; and what she appreciates most about RIS.

Congratulations on all your success at the Geneva International Exhibition! What does the Gold Medal mean to you on a personal level?
I am very humbled by this recognition, and it was a great opportunity to experience research and development at an advanced level. Geneva was the first exhibition ever that I participated in for my innovation, so I wasn’t expecting to get an award!

Grace, who entered the competition under Ruamrudee International School (RIS) and the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), is the only entry who was awarded Gold with Congratulations of the Jury! 

What inspired your Anti-Topple Wheelchair Kit?
My inspiration for this was my grandma. She occasionally uses a wheelchair, which I push sometimes. The hardest part was going up and down ramps, especially the steep ones. My grandma would tense up, trying not to fall over.

Some ramps in Thailand are steeper than the standard required by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), making it dangerous for wheelchair users and putting them at risk of tipping over.

How does your innovation navigate this exactly?
My Anti-Topple Wheel Chair Kit uses a hydraulic system to move the front wheel up and down so that the seat is parallel to the ground. This makes the wheelchair safer and more comfortable for the person sitting (as well as the person pushing it) because their weight is more evenly distributed throughout the chair.

The Anti-Topple Wheel Chair Kit uses a hydraulic system to move the front wheel up and down so that the seat is parallel to the ground.
The Anti-Topple Wheel Chair Kit enables the wheelchair to be safer and more comfortable for the person sitting (as well as the person pushing it) as weight becomes more evenly distributed throughout.

Have you been able to develop the Anti-Topple Wheel Chair Kit even more since Geneva?
A few improvements have been made since. The current kit has four linear actuators (2 in front and 2 in the back); a battery; a switch; and three metal rods to add stability. Two linear actuators move the front wheels up and down, while the other two move the rear wheels back and front. As the front wheel moves up, the rear wheels move back, and vice versa. A switch on the armrest controls all of these functions.

I also improved on the current design to add some extra safety to the wheelchair, such as getting the brakes to move along with the wheels so it can be stopped while on a ramp. More rods have also been added for extra stability.

This past summer, you also took home a Silver Medal from the 2022 Japan Design, Idea & Invention Expo! What have you learned from these exhibition/competition experiences?
For Japan, my presentation video and script were improved upon to feature the new functionalities of the kit. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to go to the exhibition due to COVID, so everything had to be done in a specific way.

Ultimately, I’ve realized that the idea itself is more important than how good the presentation or video was. Anyone can do this, even with minimal resources! I’m really proud of myself, and it has really motivated me to do even better!  

Additionally, Grace has also received accolades from iCAN 2022 (Canada) (Gold, Special Award of the Innovation Initiative); the Organizer’s Choice Award; the Special Prize from NARS Award (organized by The National Assoication for Science and Research – Lebanon); the Certificate of Appreciation from the NRCT; and WICO Korea 2022 (Silver).

You’ve successfully acquired a petty patent and design registration. Could you tell us more about this and what it means for your product in the future?
This means that my idea and design are protected, and only I can sell this product. I plan to find a way to produce the kit at a lower cost, so it can be more accessible to more people—or it can be donated.

We love how you’re an exemplar of RIS’ commitment to service learning. We’ve heard you were also involved in helping the Police Wives Association develop products to aid the Border Patrol Police School.
The Police Wives Association helps run schools for the children of police officers stationed in remote areas where there are limited educational opportunities. I worked with RIS 10th grader Kritpaul (Ray) Prasattongosoth and the Police Wives Association on an ongoing project that started last year to help a border patrol school in Ubon Ratchathani.

The school had already been selling mulberry crackers and banana chips. The money they make goes to supporting the school and the community there. However, they were selling them for pretty cheap in the village. The first thing we did was redesign their packaging. Initially, our plan was to just get them to an online platform, but I thought that if we improved their packaging, they could sell more of their products.

I researched packaging types, as well as stickers and sizes, to come up with one that was simple, economic, and aesthetically-pleasing. After we settled on the final design, we sent stickers and bags to the school. We got them on an online platform and had multiple Zoom meetings with the head of the school, showing them how to list products, accept orders, print labels, and anything else necessary related to marketing! With their new packaging, they even managed to get their product into three other stores nationwide!

That’s amazing! What else are you involved in? What do you do in your free time?
I am an executive member and co-founder of the Gender and Sexuality Awareness Committee (GSA). I’m also a member of RIS’ SWENext and the National Honor Society. In my free time, I occasionally go out with friends, but I usually like to keep to myself watching videos or playing guitar.

What are your plans for after RIS?
My goal is to go to university in the U.S. for engineering, although I’m not sure what field exactly yet. RIS offers a variety of courses, both AP and IB, making it easier to find out what you like and what you want to do in the future. I have a lot of interests, so I’d like to explore a bit more first before deciding. All the faculty are very knowledgable and supportive, and there is always someone you can go to if you want to learn more about a certain topic. 

Do you have any words of advice for your fellow students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
Different stages and competitions have different needs and expectations. Just because you didn’t get an award in one competition doesn’t mean you won’t get one in another. You don’t always need to have a professional, flawless-looking prototype or video either. Find the problem you are trying to solve and figure out a solution that would solve it directly.

Try not to doubt yourself or your own ideas. You never know what others might find interesting or helpful. It doesn’t hurt to try. Even if you don’t receive recognition, you will still gain experience!