W.F. West Senior Heads to International Science Competition


A senior W.F. High School student will travel to Phoenix, Arizona, in May to showcase an invention at the world’s largest international pre-college science competition.

Niko Bhagwandin, 17, designed and created a robotic arm that mimics his movements when he wears a special glove he designed and built. 

Using a 3D printer, Bhagwandin made individual pieces to create the arm, the hand and the fingers. After trimming and piecing the parts together, he wired them and programmed the robot.

Bhagwandin took his robot to the Southwest Science and Engineering Fair in Camas on Feb. 27 where he earned four awards and secured himself as a finalist in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

More than 1,700 high school students from over 75 countries, regions and territories will showcase their independent research and compete for approximately $4 million in prizes.

In his third year in the robotics program at W.F. West High School, Bhagwandin said he first became interested in engineering when he transferred to the Chehalis school from Onalaska.

“I did my first year of high school at Onalaska and was pretty much at the end of their academic programs,” he said. “I transferred to W.F. West in search of better opportunity and found the robotics team, which led me to create this.”

While registering for classes at his new high school, Bhagwandin decided to take the robotics class. From there, his skills flourished and he became the leader of the design team and the driver of a team-built robot in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition.

“He is the top,” Clifton White, physics and robotics teacher at W.F. West, said of Bhagwandin. “There aren’t too many like Niko.”

Bhagwandin got the idea for his robotic arm from an online database that shares open source CAD, or computer-aided design, files.

He downloaded the files, printed them and put himself to work.

“Taking computer files to a physical working robot takes quite a bit,” he said. 

Bhagwandin based his project off of the plans but personally designed pieces for the robot.

He uses a glove, laced with wiring, which is his “sensor gauntlet.” The sensors transfer the input and allow the arm to mimic his movements when he wears the glove.

The project was challenging, Bhagwandin said, but he enjoyed the difficult task.

When presenting his robot at the Southwest Science and Engineering Fair, he said he hoped to win the Best of Engineering Award, but was not expecting to take home the Best of Fair honor. 

He received both, as well as the Intel Excellence in Computer Science Award and a gold medal in the Robotics/Mechatronics category.

He hopes to create many contacts while at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

After discovering his love of robotics, Bhagwandin plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Washington.

“I’m really passionate about robots,” he said.

He said the resources provided by the school and the robotics team have helped him live out his engineering dreams. He said without transferring to W.F. West, he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he has so far. 

White said Bhagwandin’s project is outstanding. He credited The Chehalis Foundation for its continued support of the program, something he said was a big component of the robotics team’s success because of the funds they allocate to the program.