Budding Inventors Flock to MIT


Kieron Murphy

This week, aspiring young Edisons and Marconis are gathering on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to participate in the annual InvenTeams Odyssey. The competition rewards teams of high school students who have come up with outstanding inventions--awarding them grants worth US $10 000. This year's field of youthful inventors has particularly set its sites on creating new devices to aid people with disabilities, according to a report from the MIT News Office.

Sponsored by the Lemelson-MIT Program, InvenTeams Odyssey brings the 22 winners of the competition to the Cambridge, Mass., university to demonstrate their creations to the public. Judges reviewed their work in a variety of categories, such as health, safety, environment, assistive devices, and consumer products. This year, seven teams have focused on designing assistive technology, with four adapting common electronic devices to provide greater independence to those who are disabled.

The Palo Alto (Calif.) High School InvenTeam is demonstrating a laser-operated remote control device for persons with severe paralysis. The Palo Alto control attaches to the user's eyeglasses and beams a pulsing laser to switch on lights or a television, or to perform other day-to-day tasks. The remote control operates through a solar cell that recognizes the laser and feeds information into a tiny computer.

The Bromfield School InvenTeam from Harvard, Mass., is displaying a device that reminds persons with memory-related illnesses to, say, take their medication. Calling their unit an aPod (for Alzheimers), their invention works on a handheld fitted with a simple three-button shell. The device receives wireless alerts from an electronic resource, such as a special pillbox, and the alerts are displayed as simple text messages. The unit also generates follow-up reminders that re-appear at intervals until a task has been completed.

Two other InvenTeams created assistive devices that rely on information technology, according to MIT. The team from Miller Place High School (Miller Place, N.Y.) designed a wheelchair tip alarm, and the InvenTeam from Westview High School (Beaverton, Ore.) developed a tactile graphing calculator for those with visual impairments.

The breakthroughs of tomorrow are in the hands of the next generation of great inventors today. If you're in the neighborhood of the MIT campus, drop by and check them out for yourself.

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