Robinson robotics develops app to help homeless

Rick Wagner • Feb 21, 2020 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — Ever hear of a phone app that can link the homeless with shelters and other organizations that help them, bringing together the physical needs of the homeless with folks who have a specific needed item?

It is called Donor Dash and is under development by some Kingsport City Schools robotics students.


A group of Robinson Middle School students continues to develop the app as part of a FIRST LEGO League robotics competition. But the 10-member team needs funding to develop the app further, as well as $4,000 to make an out-of-state trip for the next level of competition.

FIRST is an acronym of For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Robinson’s winning LEGO League robotics team is moving up to an international invitational competition in Arkansas this spring after competing in the East Tennessee tournament in Cookeville on Feb. 8.

FIRST LEGO League teams from Washington and Jackson elementary schools in Kingsport also competed, but the Robinson team was the only Kingsport City Schools team to advance to nationals. It was one of three from the state competition to move forward to the competition to which 80 teams have been invited, about 60 or 65 from North America and the rest from other parts of the world.

Seventh-grade science teacher and team coach Shelby Morris said most teams don’t have the maximum-allowed 10 members because it is difficult to divide the duties that many ways but that the Robinson team does it well. Each day, Morris said, the team meets and plans what individual members will do, usually in groups of two, much like engineers at Eastman collaborate. Last year, a Robinson team got an award for research.

“They do all work very evenly,” Morris said. By eighth grade, Morris said, Robinson robotics students generally move on to the VEX robotics program, which has robotics and coding but no presentations as LEGO does.

Mia Al-khateeb, 13, and Vicky Li, 12, are both seventh-graders and among the 10 members of the team, and they and Morris said all team members are involved in the project and the competition. Others helping the team are applied technology teacher and coach Jennifer Sturgill and volunteer coach Elise Eagan, an engineer at Eastman Chemical Co.

Vicky said the team also hopes to talk with Kingsport Board of Education member Eric Hyche, who works for Groupon, about the app. 

The rest of the team members are Emily Doyle, Aparajita Vashisth, Luke Nash, Claire Li, Jakob Price, Grant Smith, Eesha Kothari and Lindsay Newman.


“They got perfect scores on their project,” Morris said. “They are designing an app to support the homeless community.”

Robinson’s team finished third overall in the competition, the first time a KCS team has placed this high in the Cookeville competition. A second Robinson team also competed in Cookeville but did not advance. 


The trip to Arkansas and further developing the app both need funding.

Since the team can’t sell the app, which will be made available for free, Mia said the team is seeking folks to step up and help fund its further development — sort of like the television show “Shark Tank.” That effort includes participating in the Business Expo the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce is holding on Friday at the MeadowView Conference, Resort & Convention Center. Although the app is functional, Morris said the team needs financial help in rolling out the second and third domains of the app.

The $4,000 is needed to attend the Razorback Open Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on May 14-17.


“We were wondering what was needed in the city and we came across the homeless,” Vicky said of physical needs of the homeless, which the team researched by touring Shades of Grace in downtown Kingsport, a church that serves but is not limited to the homeless.

Mia said, “It’s really all over the world. There’s really not a place without homeless.”

Vicky said the app can help folks “select what you are donating and go to a map to see the nearest homeless shelter.”

Mia said a homeless person could could ask in the app for a specific physical need. “They can put, ‘Can I get a coat in size large?’ ” Mia said.

Because many homeless people have cell phones, Mia said the team hopes to add a feature where a homeless person could download the app and see a map of the nearest homeless shelter or place to get assistance. In addition, she said the plan is to put in a feature where groups that serve the homeless could exchange items, such as a shelter with an over-abundance of shoes could send those to a shelter with more coats than needed.

Mia said the team members learned that Shades of Grace is not a shelter where the homeless can stay overnight but that the church needs volunteers to help out at the church and could use people to store out-of-season or excess inventory of donated items.





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