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MIT's EurekaFest showcases high school students' problem-solving prototypes

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EurekaFest is a yearly event held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that showcases the prototype inventions of high school students from around the country. The inventions consist of various gadgets and devices aimed at helping solve real-world problems.

One of the more impressive ideas I saw during the two days I spent covering the event was a prototype “sensing” cane for blind people. The cane features sensors that can detect objects up to eight feet away, at which point the cane’s handle begins buzzing once per second and increases in intensity as objects get closer.

cane

There were actually two separate teams working on sensing canes – one from Harvard, MA and one from Norfolk, VA. I spoke with the team from Norfolk, which you watch in the above video. Their prototype cane cost only about $140 to put together and consists of PVC piping and an Arduino-like logic board that handles all the information from the sensors. Apparently an earlier prototype was made from carbon fiber, but it turned out to be too expensive and not as easy to work with as PVC.

Other interesting concepts included the following:

cable

Pressure-sensitive illuminated computer cable: USB cable that lights up when you squeeze it, allowing you to easily identify a particular cable among other cables plugged into your computer.

biofilm

Biofilm membrane for oil remediation: A $40 apparatus that attaches to a well in a rural village and filters out oil from water affected by an oil spill. The actual oil is eaten by microorganisms present in one of the filtering sections of the piping.

fridge

Alternative energy refrigerator for northern climates: This is basically a $300 attachment that can be easily installed on just about any refrigerator. It hooks up to an outside vent and uses cold winter air to decrease the refrigerator’s energy consumption by up to 50% during the winter.

creeper

Assistive mechanics creeper for car repair: An apparatus that allows people with bad backs, bad knees, and the handicapped to easily work underneath cars. “This invention will allow a person to slide from a wheelchair onto the device, lower, and recline backwards to the position of a traditional creeper. This can be done without the person ever having to get up and adjust it. The device will be able to hold a maximum weight of 300 pounds.”

cruise control

Cooperative cruise control for hybrid commuter cars: A series of sensors attached to multiple cars in the same caravan that allow one lead car to be followed automatically by up to four other cars.

car

I also got a chance to check out a hybrid electric car developed by a high school in New Hampshire. The vehicle was made out of a motorcycle frame and featured a gasoline generator attachment for extending the mileage. That, plus all of the other inventions can be found in the video at the top of this post. And here’s a list of all the other inventions as well.

Lemelson-MIT Program’s EurekaFest [MIT.edu]

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