STUDENTS SHOW OFF INVENTION AT SAN JOSE TECH FESTIVAL
Alertra, a wearable fire notification system for people with hearing impairments, earned a team of Mount Olive High School students an opportunity to share their invention with the world.
The product was developed as part of the school’s inaugural participation in Project Invent, a nationwide program that inspires innovation and entrepreneurship. After presenting its product at a virtual regional competition – think “Shark Tank” without the bite – the team was one of just seven in the country to be chosen to attend Future Fest, Project Invent’s celebration of student inventors and innovation education. The conference was held in the tech center of the U.S. – San Jose, California, the largest city in Silicon Valley.
Alertra was envisioned as a complete turnkey alarm system. In the event of a fire, custom smoke detectors transmit signals to a wrist-worn alarm equipped with flashing lights and vibration motors. The wearable devices are the size of an Apple Watch.
“It reduces risk for everyone,” said student Dhruv Raghuraman. “Alertra gets people out of the buildings, and that makes it safer for firefighters because they don’t have to go into a fire to rescue anyone inside.”
To begin the development process, the team was partnered with the Leary Firefighters Foundation and tasked with using their skills to devise a product to meet a social need. After discussions with foundation officials and fire departments in Erie, Pennsylvania and Millburn, New Jersey, the young inventors came up with the Alertra concept.
While this was the first year of Project Invent at MOHS, the students had some experience working together on similar projects. Four of the five also participate in an afterschool club that develops underwater remotely operated vehicles. Though Alertra was a collaborative effort, students automatically fell into their natural leadership roles. Matthew Rambo was in charge of design, Pratyus Mohapatra and Dhruv handled programming, and Kaitlyn Bodmer and Gabriela Forero created all marketing materials.
Working afterschool and during lunch periods, the five students developed Alertra over eight months. Hundreds of hours of planning, trial and error, and revisions – both in school and out – brought their vision to life. Feedback was provided throughout the process by the firefighters and twice from tech industry leaders, including the IBM team that judged the regional competition.
After learning of their selection for the national event in San Jose, the students had two months to put the finishing touches on their products and presentation materials. Not only would their peers from other parts of the country see them, but also national tech leaders and Project Invent officials. “Going in we had a loose prototype, so after we heard [about San Jose] we had to kick it into gear and start refining everything,” said Matthew.
The system had to look professional, like something you’d find on the shelf at Best Buy or Home Depot. Alertra-branded smoke detector models were created using the school’s 3D printers, and were then packaged and shrinkwrapped. The exterior of the wearable device was reworked into a sleek, compact design that was also 3D printed. The device used the interchangeable bands from the Apple Watch, making replacement a breeze.
At Future Fest, held in a science and technology center that offers interactive exhibits and STEAM education resources, the Alertra team staffed a table with their design models and discussed the system with visitors. The students also participated in hands-on engineering activities with members of the six other Project Invent teams.
The rewards of Project Invent, the students said, transcended far beyond tech knowledge entrepreneurship experience.
“By the end of the trip, we were very tight,” said Kaitlyn, who has invention infused intos her DNA. Her father, David, teaches digital design and engineering at MOHS and serves as both the Project Invent and marine robotics club advisers. “Developing a project that you believe in, along with people you come to love and care about, was an awesome experience.”
Project Invent will be offered again in 2022-2023.
Kaitlyn Bodmer, Pratyus Mohapatra, Matthew Rambo, and Dhruv Raghuraman show off their product prototypes