Jeff Woods has always been interested in robots.
“Since I was a child, I dreamed of a robot that could solve all kinds of problems and assist mankind in a helpful way,” Woods said during his Memorial Day service address Monday at Dickinson State University’s Stickney Auditorium.
The U.S. Air Force veteran has turned his hobby into a not-for-profit charity, Robots 4 Wounded Soldiers, aimed specifically at helping wounded and disabled American veterans take advantage of the technological advances in robotics and robotic prostheses. Woods gave a nearly 20-minute speech that was more about inspirational Americans and the country’s history than his charity. His words prompted a standing ovation.
“I can see he has a heart for veterans,” said George Nodland, a former state senator from Dickinson who served as master of ceremonies at the service and introduced Woods.
The son of a 26-year Naval veteran, Woods grew up in Florida and served 12 years in the Air Force specializing in security forces and weapons instruction. He moved to Dickinson last September to become the health, safety and environmental manager for the soon-to-be-completed Dakota Prairie Refinery.
His charity is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, he has lofty goals for it.
Robots 4 Wounded Soldiers aims at creating programs for wounded and disabled veterans to receive benefits from robots and robotics. Woods’ plans include meeting with major robotics and technology companies to raise awareness and funding.
“We’re going to make them aware of our need and we’re going to ask them to participate,” he said.
Woods said the charity is looking mostly to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who have suffered a high rate of lost limbs.
“Right now it’s coming into an age where the latest technology, they can actually connect robotic prosthetics to your brain and your brain can tell that prosthetic what to do and function,” Woods said.
One immediate goal for Woods is to get volunteers involved at a local level to help make phone calls and solicitations to businesses that will “build the structure of the organization.”
“We’re hoping to start getting some people involved here locally on a volunteer basis and also on a paid basis,” Woods said. “There will be some positions for that where we can start a nucleus, start having regular meetings and end up getting an office here. This is where it’ll all begin.”
Woods believes within the decade personal assistance robots and robotic prosthetics will continue to advance, and he believes wounded and disabled veterans should be able to make use of that technology regardless of the cost.
“For veterans, so many that have been wounded, that have been hurt, they’re going to be a great service to those people,” Woods said. “They’re going to be able to take a lot of those tasks and make it easier. Those who want to be fitted with prosthetics, their lives are going to be more normal. This is the age that we’re coming into.”