Wake up!

MHS robotics team develops fire alert system for hearing-impaired

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The high-pitched screech from a smoke alarm provides an unmistakable warning of fire. But how is a sleeping, hearing-impaired person supposed to be alerted to the danger at hand?

Four Mineola High School students built a product designed to tackle that problem. They call their invention the “Waker Upper.”

The robotics team devised a system whereby a commercial smoke detector signals a mechanical device, which delivers rapid thumps against a headboard, causing it to vibrate and alert the bed’s occupant.

Already, the team of Tanner Taylor, Matthew Carder and Caden Roberts, all seniors, and junior Jeremy Vaughn has earned a first place at the UIL Area Robotics competition in Bullard on Jan. 26. They won the right to advance to the UIL State Robotics competition on April 26 in Austin, where they’ll compete against a deeper field of participants and present their product to a panel of judges.

They will be judged on the actual product as well as how thoroughly they’ve documented its engineering. Judges also will take into account the team’s savvy at marketing its machine, which includes creation of a webpage, a brochure, and a video commercial spot. The robotics team will market the “Waker Upper” under the mock company Battalion 12 Inc. Judges also will grade the team on oral presentations and how well they respond to random questioning.

The concept of the “Waker Upper” originated with a visit to his grandma’s house, Carder explained.

“I went to my grandma’s house and I remember having to call her name a couple times until she heard me,” he said. That got him to thinking. What would happen if an alarm went off and she couldn’t hear it? He proposed his idea to his colleagues and they bought in. “We thought it would be an easy build,” he noted.

The device, which is largely constructed of Legos, took several months to develop. The programming element took the longest to perfect. The “Waker Upper” employs a smoke alarm, which, in the presence of smoke, activates a light. The robot’s sensors detect the light and engage electric motors that cause two ball bearings to beat rapidly against a headboard. The lightweight device attaches to a headboard with Velcro.At the State competition, the team intends to employ a fog machine to simulate smoke.

At least two members of the team – Carder and Roberts – said what they learned most by working on the project is how electricity functions.

The robotics team priced their invention at $59.99, far less than two competing alarms for hearing-impaired people. The team believes its product would have real-world market appeal if the prototype was refined with stronger materials and advanced electronics.

“It would function better, and I feel that it could become a product,” said Carder. “Right now the only other smoke detectors for someone hard of hearing are a strobe light (which could induce seizures) or a wasabi spray that causes extreme irritation to the mouth and eyes. And both cost between $400 and $600.”

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