Joco 913

Young innovators steer the way to safer future

Owen Coleman, 8, and Alayna Danbury, 7, point out the features of the steering wheel they designed with two classmates for the ExploraVision contest.
Owen Coleman, 8, and Alayna Danbury, 7, point out the features of the steering wheel they designed with two classmates for the ExploraVision contest. Special to The Star

A group of second-graders at Rosehill Elementary School is winning awards for their vision of the future, and what they see in our technological future is much more about science fact than science fiction.

It’s all part of the ExploraVision contest, which promotes brainstorming high-tech innovations.

Only six teams in each of the four age groups become regional winners throughout the United States and Canada, and Rosehill’s group is one those in the kindergarten to third grade category. Making up the team were second-graders Noah Barnes, 8, Owen Coleman, 8, and Alayna Danbury, 7, and Victoria Olberding, 8.

The main purpose of the ExploraVision contest, sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba, is to get students to really examine present day technology and imagine how they can develop those further in the future to solve a problem in society.

For the Rosehill group, that problem was distracted driving, and their solution was a steering wheel loaded with technological gadgets to help prevent accidents.

“We made it so it would help save people’s lives,” Alayna said. “I learned that if you take your eyes off the road for one second, you can get in an accident.”

The sensors they would connect to the steering wheel include a weight sensor, which connects with the seatbelt.

“Our steering wheel, it has all these different sensors that help make driving safer,” Noah said. “If someone’s on the seat, then the car won’t start until their seatbelt is buckled.”

They would also include an electronic potential sensor to look for signs of fatigue via the driver’s heart-rate, track eye and muscle movements to detect a distracted driver and measure eye dilation for signs of drug use.

To minimize distractions for drivers, the kids would make all the functions on their steering wheel controlled through a Bluetooth-enabled speaker.

“They had to basically become experts on what distracts the brain,” said Brandi Leggett, instructional coach at Rosehill.

Leggett helped the students find articles online, and they divided up the reading and research so that each student was an authority on one section of the research.

There’s a lot more to an ExploraVision project than just coming up with an idea for futuristic tech.

The kids worked on their project for about an hour a week from September to February. A lot of what they learned was not only technological information but basic research skills.

The students had to research all the different technologies that are available now and come up with logical extensions of those technologies for their steering wheel. In this case, that meant learning about electronic sensors, Breathalyzers and smartphone connections for cars.

“They needed the guidance of how to search for the information,” Leggett said. “Besides the research there were so many other skills that went into it, because they had to synthesize the information. They were summarizing, and there were a lot of tougher words. They were having to break it up and use context clues.”

Another part of the project is to compare the positive and negative possible outcomes, such as reduced chance of traffic accidents but also increased chance of false positives from the various impairment-detection sensors.

Also assisting them with their project were school police officer Danny Chavez and Doug Sumner, Shawnee Mission’s assistant superintendent for human resources.

Chavez advised the kids on some of the various factors that went into traffic accidents and helped them make a video, while Sumner provided feedback and additional questions on their presentation.

As regional winners, the team had to make a visual aid of their design to illustrate what a prototype would really look like, and they had to film a video and make a website. Their project will now go on for judging in the national competition against the other five regions.

In the national competition, two teams in their age group will win a trip to Washington, D.C. The first place team will receive savings bonds for $10,000 each, and second place team members will get $5,000 savings bonds.

In addition to this team, another team at Rosehill also received an honorable mention for their project on cancer-fighting technology.