South Fayette High School students win national competition
Two groups of South Fayette High School students recently won a national competition for their innovative work on a pair of separate projects.
Out of 69 applicants for the Digital Promise filmMaker Challenge, supported by Chevron, the South Fayette groups swept both high school slots, while the other two spots were for middle school contestants.
“It’s been an awesome journey,” Jim Hausman, adviser of the South Fayette High School STEM team, said. “I’m very grateful to have participated in it with these fine young people. I’ve been surprised by the commitment.
“Sometimes students overextend themselves and they aren’t committed to things, and they back out of things easily,” he continued. “But we kept at it, and I admire their perseverance and their will.”
The Digital Promise filmMaker Challenge tasked students to redesign “an everyday object to make it more sustainable, accessible or beautiful” and create “a documentary video that tells the story of the process,” according to digitalpromise.org.
The two groups won an opportunity to present their projects at the flagship Maker Faires in either New York City and California.
One of the groups made a phone app aimed at improving the grocery shopping experience. The idea emerged in one of Hausman’s classes, in which students were working on human-centered design.
A group of four – Tyler Sharp, Parth Sutariya, Gabby Mariano and Kasey Smith – thought of how difficult shopping can be.
“Then they went out and conducted live research at several local area grocery stores and got feedback from the consumers,” Hausman explained. “Everyone said, ‘If you can make my line experience significantly shorter, I would love you.’”
The group then used an app called POP, or Prototype on Paper, to make a wire-frame example of their app for the challenge. The students took the app, which they named BIP for Bag it Pro, to people who work at grocery stores and customers to gather feedback.
The BIP group was in San Mateo, Calif., for the Bay Area Maker Faire, gaining feedback from people there. The team’s next step is to start programming the app.
The other group focused on opioid addiction by creating a pill dispenser that regulates how much and how often it releases pills, called LockRx.
The project began as part of the Governor’s Pennsylvania STEM Competition, in which the group won the regionals and qualified for the state competition last month. Once the other group from the high school entered the filmMaker Challenge, so did the LockRx team.
“We may not have come up in the competition like we wanted to,” junior lead engineer Michael Kugler said. “But just knowing that we can pursue this in the future and potentially save a life, that’s all that matters.”
Hausman said the process for LockRx started in October 2016 with about six weeks of research on the opioid epidemic in southwestern Pennsylvania. Seven students worked on the project: Kuglar, Anish Thangavelu, Josh Milteer, Ashumi Rokadia, Chris Rodi, Jay Abraham and Suraj Bokil.
“After we looked into the opioid crisis, Pennsylvania outpaces the national average for addiction, and Allegheny County far outpaces the Pennsylvania average,” Hausman said. “Outside of Philadelphia, the southwest corridor – Greene, Westmoreland and Allegheny Counties – are three of the highest counties with opioid overdose deaths.”
The students found that 90 percent of first exposure to an opioid is from a friend, family member or doctor, meaning the drugs are accessible from a pill bottle.
“We thought if we could construct a device that keeps those pills locked in a secure apparatus until the time of dispensing that we could seriously mitigate a lot of these addictions,” Hausman said. “With this device I can only access what I’ve been allotted at the given time, so if I give that up to someone else, I forgo my own pain management.”
After working with a rectangular box, the group moved to a circular design for the dispenser. The device has a fingerprint scanner to access the pills, along with a lighted timer. The pills can be accessed only by the prescribed person’s fingerprint if the light is green.
The group wanted to ensure LockRx was portable to allow people to carry it around with them.
“We found out there were devices kind of similar, but they were huge,” Kugler said. “We wanted to have something you can put in your pocket. That’s what we were toying with the most, and what took the longest.”
When the students were stuck with an engineering aspect or a coding problem with the device, they reached out to experts to help solve the solutions. The team contacted a group of graduate students at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, along with Nicholas Anthony, a data and electrical engineer at PiMios Solutions.
“He’s been very instrumental in getting us to think about the future of the device,” Hausman said. “So now that we have this and it works, how do we scale it, (and) put it into the palm of your hand, which is where we all to make me want to get to. And we know with his help we can get the device (smaller). That’s the goal. He’s trying to take us into the future.”
The group has also gotten help from South Fayette’s school resource officer, Sgt. Jeff Sgro, who used his experience as a police officer to guide the students.
“I think we just found out he’s more than a cop,” Kugler said. “He’s an outlet; he’s a valuable resource to all parts of the project and encouraged us. He believed in us.”
Outside of getting the device more portable, the group is presenting LockRx to a local pharmaceutical company, PANTHERx, and will also continue talking with state Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-South Fayette, about LockRx being a part of his pursuit of locking prescription vial legislation.
Hausman said what the LockRx team did this school year was “profound.”
“I feel like what we’ve learned has been so rich and so meaningful and so compelling that it, in some ways, reinforces what we do in school,” Hausman said. “It pulls all of the different disciplines together. It’s just shown how important learning from all different angles is.”
Kugler said working on the project has confirmed that he wants to be a mechanical engineer.
“I really experienced what the field is like and the pressure situations to make something work,” he said. “That’s something, even after the long nights, it’s something I still want to pursue.”
The team will present LockRx at the World Maker Faire in New York City in September.