The Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to “honor both established and rising inventors for their ingenuity, creativity and contribution to invention and innovation.”
Several grants are given out every year, including many to “InvenTeams” made up of high school students that have ideas about how to solve certain problems in their communities or around the world.
Every year, EurekaFest showcases the InvenTeams’ inventions. Many are still in the early stages of development and some may never make it to market, but here’s a glimpse at the inventions from this year’s program.
Automated robotic vehicular independence system — Beaver Country Day School (Chestnut Hill, Mass.)
This four-wheeled robot has been designed to replace wheelchair backpacks and tethered wheelchair trailers, following its owner around wirelessly and carrying up to 50 pounds on its platform. The team mentioned grocery shopping as a possible use-case. This alpha prototype cost $2,500 to put together.
Emotive aid for combating autism — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, Va.)
This project consists of a watch-like device with an LCD screen meant to be worn by someone with autism. The device sports a microphone that analyzes others’ speech patterns, at which point a computer algorithm guesses (with 60% accuracy) whether whoever’s talking is happy, sad, angry or disgusted before relaying the appropriate icon to the watch’s screen. This prototype cost $150 to build.
Pedestrian alert system — Newton North High School (Newton, Mass.)
Ethiopia has some of the worst traffic fatality rates in the world, so Newton North High School paired with its sister school in Addis Ababa to create this pedestrian alert system. The system gauges the speed of oncoming cars and alerts pedestrians further down the road whether it’s safe to cross or not. Each system would cost $3,700 but costs could be driven down by using recycled parts.
Solar egg incubator — Henry M. Gunn High School (Palo Alto, Calif.)
Meant for developing countries, this system consists of a solar collector, incubator, and an automatic egg turner controlled by an Arduino microcontroller. Nicknamed the Cluck Bucket, the system can incubate a dozen eggs at a time and features a hatching detection system that alerts its owner about three days before the chickens are ready to emerge. All the parts cost roughly $300.
Drowning prevention device — Girls Leadership Academy of Arizona (Phoenix, Ariz.)
The adorably-named “Wata Wescue” is a high-tech, yet lightweight water safety shirt for small children designed to address the problem of child drownings in family pools. If a child wearing the shirt falls into the pool, the shirt inflates itself and sounds a wireless alert to a base station inside the house.
Ice search and rescue ROV — Natick High School (Natick, Mass.)
This remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) uses an underwater camera system to help search-and-rescue teams identify people or objects trapped under ice before deploying human divers. The total cost for all the finished parts comes to around $4,000.
Aside from the six inventions shown above, there were 10 other teams showing off their ideas as well. Here’s a list of those teams, with links to more information about each project:
- ACTS Home Education Cooperative (Charlottesville, Va.): Wind turbine for highway airflow capture
- Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders (Austin, Texas): Non-electric pressurized cooler
- Colfax High School (Colfax, Calif.): Construction layout tool
- Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School (Groton, Conn.): Compost water heating system
- John P. Stevens High School (Edison, N.J.): Life jacket for prolonged search and rescue
- LEARN Science and Math Club (Kansas City, Mo.): Life-saving, drug-tracking system
- Los Alamitos High School (Los Alamitos, Calif.): High efficiency ozone water purification system
- Nashua High School North (Nashua, N.H.): Bacteria powered battery
- St. Ursula Academy (Toledo, Ohio): Pill dispensing organizational system
- Sturgis West Charter Public School (Hyannis, Mass.): Marine mammal rescue transporter