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Crescenta Valley High senior wins STEM competition with app for low-budget prosthetics

Justin Park with his winning entry in the local congressional app challenge

Justin Park, a senior at Crescenta Valley High School won first place in Rep. Adam Schiff’s Congressional App Challenge, for his app, Digit, which he made to help mass-produce low budget prosthetics for amputees. 

(Courtesy of Justin Park)

A 17-year-old student who turned his fascination with how hands work into a software application placed first in this year’s local congressional science, technology, engineering and math competition, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

Justin Park, a senior at Crescenta Valley High School, was one of 12 students to take on the challenge, which called on students living or attending high school in the 28th Congressional district to develop an app.

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Park named his app Digit, and he created it to mass produce low-budget prosthetics for amputees.

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In this case, a neural sensor allows the app’s user to control a 3-D printed hand using their brain.

A neural headset reads how much the brain is focusing on the task, ultimately allowing the user to open and close the single-motor hand without touching it.

The cost is about $100 per hand, far lower than costlier models with prices that climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.

At Crescenta Valley High, Park has been mentored by Gregory Neat, who coaches students in robotics and teaches computer science.

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Park enrolled in his first class with Neat as a sophomore, several years after he was a Monte Vista Elementary student who became infatuated with Apple’s application store.

While perusing the app store, he became determined to create a game himself, but he didn’t have the know-how until he met Neat.

“The idea stayed with me for a long time,” Park said.

Since learning from Neat, Park has created multiple games, including Strum, an app where the user can play a virtual ukulele.

Using a game engine called Unity, Park has also taught fellow classmates about creating games, and Unity has been folded into the school’s curriculum.

With plans to major in computer science, Park hopes to work as a computer programmer, and he’s grateful for the instruction he’s received from Neat, who told Park once that the school’s robotics program, called 598 Falkon Robotics, is essentially how a real-world business operates.

“He says that it’s the closest thing to a company that you’ll see inside the walls of the school,” he said.

Park agrees and said the skills he’s learned while on the school’s robotics team played a crucial role in preparing him to create his most recent award-winning app.

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“It’s hands-on product design,” Park said.

The congressional STEM challenge was established by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013.

This year’s runners-up were also inspired to participate in the challenge by Neat.

They include Crescenta Valley High students Andrew Dertli and Lyron Co Ting Keh, who placed second by creating a “Locker Master” app to enable students to register for lockers online instead of submitting paper forms for them.

The school plans to pilot the app at the start of next school year.

Fellow Crescenta Valley students who placed third in the challenge were Taeklim Kim and Nicolas Doubrosky, who were honored for their “Attendance Checker” app, which allows student groups to automate attendance taking by having students sign in to classes or clubs by swiping their student ID card.

The app is already in use by students who belong to the Falkon Robotics team.

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“Students participating in this challenge never fail to impress me,” Schiff said in a statement. “The applications designed by these students are so clever, sophisticated and useful — they demonstrate the enormous creativity of young people in our community. They give me every confidence that the next generation will help to keep our country competitive in this technologically driven age. If this contest is any indication, we’ll have some amazing talent headed to Silicon Valley.”

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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